One of the groups funded by the Rampion Fund in the autumn round was to an organisation called Feedback that runs Sussex Gleaning Network. The project takes volunteers to farms and orchards in Sussex to salvage fresh, surplus vegetables and fruit which otherwise would go to waste. In addition, it helps farmers avoid in-field food waste by harnessing volunteer power to harvest fresh produce that would otherwise go to waste. Since July 2017, the group has ‘rescued’ over 45 tonnes of fresh produce and re-distributed it to a wide range of partner organisations, predominantly food charities feeding people in need.
One of the star volunteers is Essam Yakoub. Essam deals admirably with the challenge of being a young Sudanese refugee, living alone in a city with a high cost of living. He works long hours in a commercial kitchen and still makes time to volunteer and, on occasion, do contract work for the gleaning network. Organiser Phil Holtam explains more.
“We met Essam at the Clocktower Sanctuary in Brighton, where he regularly accesses services to support with his precarious housing arrangement. As a trained chef, Essam is exceptionally passionate about food and jumped at the chance to visit local farms to glean. Whilst being an eager ‘food waste warrior’, Essam’s engagement with the gleaning network has a strong culinary motive: his excitement to travel to local farms comes from a strong desire to understand the regional produce of Sussex available to him as a chef in Brighton, to gain an in-depth understanding of the flavours of different fruit and veg varieties, and to build direct links with local growers to supply his own commercial kitchen (that he hopes – one day – to establish).
Essam has been at the centre of all our meals in the community and has twice cooked for over 60 people – once in St John the Baptist hall in Kemptown and another time at Friends’ Meeting House. He also was instrumental in feeding the climate strike event we held in September.
The Gleaning Network has contributed to Essam’s integration into Brighton by providing the space for him to connect with other volunteers, to cook for the community (which he loves doing) and to visit food growers across the region. In some instances, he has been paid for his work at our events however; at times, he has been persistently stubborn at refusing payment.
A particular highlight of our work with Essam was a trip to two local farms to source veg for a community meal, which included a farmhouse lunch with a grower in our network in Cuckfield, who loved hearing Essam’s recipe suggestions for their vegetables and were struck by his passion for their food. The following day, it was heartening when a team of the farm’s workers travelled to Brighton to enjoy Essam cooking their surplus produce at Friends’ Meeting House.”