Open post
Woman cooking in the kitchen

War on Waste: Alfalfa House meets Caroline Brakewell

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Our Monthly Challenge: Be The Change

There is always more to do as the War on Waste continues.. in our homes, our neighbourhood and our community. The sharing of ideas, identifying and problem solving what’s within our reach, is a great place to start. Find a local campaign and help out. Involve our children, our neighbours, our local business owners and workplaces and begin by asking the simple question, “What can I do to contribute to the War on Waste?”

We spoke to volunteer and Alfalfa House member, Caroline Brakewell to find out how she’s contributing.

Let’s Get To Know…

Woman holding two bunches of carrots at a market

Name: Caroline Brakewell
Everyone knows her as: C
Star sign: Libra. Unbalanced!
What makes you happy? My toddler. World peace.
What do you do for work? Health coach, chef, mamma and Marketing Director at Alfalfa House.
What do you do for fun? Travel. Dip in the ocean and nature. Hang with friends.

How long have you been a member? Around a year

What made you join Alfalfa House?
I was introduced by a friend who’s been a member for years. I love the philosophy of not for profit and waste reduction. Plus the great discount on food from some of Australia’s best suppliers and knowing I’m supporting them.

What’s the main products you buy at Alfalfa?
Everything. I’m addicted to the chocolate coated macadamia nuts and turmeric paste. Knowing I’m feeding my daughter pesticide-free produce is a big pull for me.

What was the catalyst to you becoming an eco warrior?
I’ve been pretty conscious since my 20s but I think stats like plastic particles taking over the number of fish in the ocean was too alarming to ignore, so I tightened up much more.

Name 3 things you recycle?
Hard plastic, cardboard & clothing

Name 2 things you reuse?
Glass and old containers for shopping at farmers’ markets and at Alfalfa House.

Name 1 item you have repurposed?
Clothes. I very rarely buy new ones and give away mine to my Goddaughter in Scotland.

Was it hard to start?
It’s been a gradual process that started many years ago when I was living in London and I’d refuse to use plastic bags. I educated myself and made more changes where I could.

Any tips on organisation skills to reuse or recycle?
Have my bags, jars and containers packed and ready every time I leave home. Use the carriage on my pram to store shopping in.

What is that one piece of waste that irks you?
Plastic wrapped fruit in supermarkets. Supermarkets full stop.

Who in your circle do you admire their war on waste? And why?
All of the speakers and presentations at our recent open day. All doing their bit whilst educating others to create a ripple effect in our communities.

What’s your favourite War on Waste campaign that you’ve heard of?
I think the Alfalfa House Zero Waste philosophy, which has been around since 1981 is in perfect alignment with the War on Waste campaign.

What is your one piece of advice for someone who is thinking about becoming an eco-warrior but doesn’t know where to start?
Start somewhere. Refuse plastic bags. Encourage your family to do the same. Look at what you can reuse. Ask if you really need that new dress when you can buy second hand.

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Sarah and Steve at a volunteer induction

A fresh start: volunteer inductions at Alfalfa House

Steve Sobolewski is a data analyst by day, and a writer and food fanatic by night. We’re lucky to now have him as a regular contributor to our blog where he’ll chronicle for us his journey into the world of sustainable food. In his first blog post, Steve talks about his experience on a recent volunteer induction at Alfalfa House.

In the above image, Steve is pictured on his volunteer induction with Sarah.

On a sunny but brisk Saturday morning I walk into Newtown’s food co-op, Alfalfa House, and announce with my best new-boy-at-school smile that I’m here for the volunteer induction.

“Hooray!” responds the excited woman behind the counter. I’ll later be introduced to her as Yue. If you go into the store you’ll recognize her as the cheerful lady looking busy, although that description would suit a lot of the people working here. My first impression on entering is how friendly everybody is. Sarah, who runs the induction sessions welcomes us with a beaming smile, and invites us to look around while she finishes up. She has a warm and friendly manner, it’s clear to see why she does all the inductions. I wander between the loaded shelves, surprising myself by learning how many different types of rice exist. And I had no idea that quinoa was so numerous in varieties.  

Another volunteer steps through the door. “Yay! Another tall one!” Yue calls. (Apparently they’ve had a shortage of volunteers able to reach some of the higher shelves.)  

Sarah invites us to walk through the office, into the storeroom and out into the garden. We take a seat in a small corner of the garden that has a table and some chairs set out in the sunshine. The garden is controlled chaos. A stack of boxes in one corner, bins along one wall, a large metal awning camped out in the middle of what could have been or will be a vegetable patch. It is busy, but there is an order to everything. Stacks of boxes, containers of compost, laundry hangers, wormeries. Everything has its purpose. Sarah explains to us what Alfalfa House is all about and gives us a bit of history.

Sarah tells us that a while ago  Alfalfa House came close to closing. A lot of time was spent looking at what Alfalfa House was doing, could it continue and if so how? Its members overwhelmingly agreed that it was a necessary part of the community. 

It surprises me to hear that its doors almost closed. Right now the shop feels alive, people are constantly coming and going. While we are being shown around the store room, a mother with her children comes through the back door to deliver some beeswax cloths. Maurice, the manager (and one of the many driving forces behind Alfalfa House’s success), stops by to collect a trolley of things to take to a local waste reduction festival. Alfalfa buzzes with the effort of the people inside it. It feels like a community. Sarah explains to us that Alfalfa House relies on its volunteers to keep going and it was only through increasing that reliance and utilizing them more, that it stayed open.

We are shown around the rest of the shop and have a lot of information given to us. Health and safety tips, where things are, what things are, what might happen, emergency exits are here, here and here. I’m feeling energized in a way I hadn’t expected, ready to get involved and so I sign up for a shift. Saturday morning, a time usually devoted to not getting up. I had originally come to the induction because my wife asked me if I’d like to write a blog for a place she had been devoting a lot of time to. Now I was ready to devote a few hours of my own, in addition to writing about it.

Since then I have worked my first volunteer shift at Alfalfa House and I loved every minute of it. The sense of committing and contributing to something that in the small scale benefits the neighborhood and the community, supports ethical producers and does its part to keep the world going is worth it.

Before I continue with my blog posts I should make a few admissions. I am not a vegan, or a vegetarian. I don’t know a huge amount about what the requirements are for something to be considered organic. I don’t know what vegetables are in season, I can make an educated guess on what foods are gluten free and only within the last few years have I found out what tofu is actually made of. I am someone who loves food. I’m also someone who has, over the last few years, started to learn about my impact on the world and the environment and what I can do to minimize it. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert but I’m learning. I volunteer on Saturday mornings so if you come to an induction I’ll probably meet you. Everyone is welcome!