It’s Boxing Day and I want to write about Stirling Community Food (SCF, otherwise known within the Wilbertson household as Waste Reduction). I’ve mentioned it in a couple of other Waste Stories posts (most recently in Flower Food) but I haven’t yet explained what it is; I’ve been planning to write more directly about it for some time now, and today seems like a good time. At this time of year, it would be too easy to write a post bemoaning the excessive, conspicuous consumption that surrounds Christmas: the single-use wrapping paper and cards, covered in glitter and enough metal foil to keep them out of the council’s list of recyclables; the presents arms-race; the food; the packaging; the endless Christmas muzak … (OK this last isn’t really a waste issue, but it does get to me). So instead I want to write about a project that is a true Waste Hero.
Stirling Community Food is a project run by Transition Stirling. It collects food (and some other products such as cut flowers) that would otherwise go to waste because of over-stocking or approaching use-by dates; the food comes direct from local supermarkets but also from organisations such as Fare Share. All good condition, within-date produce is made freely available at SCF’s premises in Stirling city centre. Out-of-date and rotten, damaged or otherwise spoiled produce gets sorted into stuff that is OK to send to the animal shelter and stuff that goes into SCF’s composting bins. Hannah and I have been working with Stirling Community Food in relation to our sister project, Data Commons Scotland (DCS), as well as Waste Stories, and we will write more about the sources of the food, how the volunteers and staff work with it and where it ends up in a future post.
SCF was set up in March 2020 and has already diverted more than 140 tonnes of food waste. Bearing in mind that Stirling is not a big place (population just over 36,000), this is a lot of food. Through DCS, we’ve been helping SCF make the most of the data they’re collecting on the produce that comes through their doors. I’ve started interviewing some of the people who work there, and in the new year, Hannah is going to spend some time observing the way the project works. We have already got lots of ideas for fictional Waste Stories seeded by SCF (and the first one of these appeared recently as Flower Food). But today I’m going to write a true story.
I had an appointment to interview Joe Swindells, who currently runs the project, just under a week ago. I’d only ever been there during public opening hours (10-12) before and I was expecting the place to be really quiet, but when I arrived it was full of life and noise. The space where the food is set out for people to take was filled with bits of wood; a man was working with an electric drill to transform the wood into market stalls. Staff and volunteers were excitedly helping set up a new lay-out (and adding some tinsel).
Joe explained that the wood had been reclaimed, mostly from a local school, and that the large blackboards that formed the front of the stalls had also come from a local school that didn’t use them anymore.
Later, Joe mentioned that SCF would be open on Christmas Day and also for an extra slot in the evening of Christmas Eve. He was anticipating having a lot of produce from the local supermarkets. The volunteer van drivers would pick stuff up around 5-6pm when the shops were closing, so the shop-front would open 7.30-8.30pm.
George and I decided to call in yesterday on our way to see his sister and her family, who live just round the corner from the SCF premises. This is what we saw:
Apparently they had 11 vans worth of produce arrive on Christmas Eve. The sturdy new market stalls creaked under the weight of bread products. There were cabbages and carrots, brussels sprouts (bagged and loose), broccolini and beans. There were parsnips and celeriacs. The fridge was filled with salads and more bags and containers of pre-prepared vegetables. The stand in the middle of the room was filed with (extravagant) lilies and other hothouse flowers. The volunteers opened the walk-in fridge and almost begged us to take cartons of strawberries and grapes. Then they handed us a large red-and-white cardboard box – M&S’s festive selection, all the traditional accompaniments to the Christmas roast, including red cabbage and apple, honey and mustard parsnips, cauliflower cheese, swede and carrot mash, goose fat roast potatoes. The freezer was filled with chicken legs, pasties and more. And then one of the SCF staff came down to tell the 3 people in the shop-front area that there was still a whole goose, upstairs, if anyone wanted one.*
I don’t know yet how much of the food SCF managed to give away yesterday. They’re closed today, and so anything that was dated use-by 26/12/21 will end up in the compost or going to the animal shelter. I’ll find out from Joe later on, and update this blog when I do. Regardless, it’s increasingly clear that Stirling Community Food is an incredible Waste Hero.
*I am a vegetarian and not even George could eat a whole goose, so we didn’t take it. We did, however, take one of the M&S festive accompaniments boxes and deliver this to his sister (we would have kept it for ourselves if it wasn’t for all the bacon and goose fat). Turned out she had been earlier and acquired an enormous goose, so that all worked out well.