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Future Shapers Sustainability Katy Barfield
Photograph: Supplied

Future Shapers: Katy Barfield, who's fighting food waste

She's playing Cupid with businesses that need to offload food with those that require food

Written by
Rushani Epa
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits), Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (artistic director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) and to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In sustainability, one such person is Katy Barfield.

Katy Barfield boasts an impressive, ethical repertoire and founded food service Spade and Barrow, was the founding CEO of one of Australia’s largest food rescue organisations, SecondBite, and went on to found social enterprise Yume five years ago. She’s obsessed with alleviating food waste and is doing so one dish at a time.

Can you explain a little bit about your work and what it is you do with Yume? 

I have been passionate about reducing food waste for over 15 years now. As the founding CEO of SecondBite, one of Australia’s largest food rescue organisations, I got to see first hand how much perfectly good food was discarded as well as learning the ins and outs of the food charity sector. Whilst food rescue and redistribution is a critically important service, I realised, after eight years in this space, that it was going to need more than one solution to make a dent in the 4.1 million tonnes of food that goes to waste every year in the commercial sector in Australia. To help you visualise that, it’s the same as having 561 semi-trailers full of food wasted per day! And that is just the commercial sector before it reaches supermarkets, restaurants or our homes. 

So five years ago, I founded Yume – a social enterprise that develops tech solutions to prevent edible food from going to waste. At Yume, we connect businesses that have surplus food products (think Unilever or Kellogg’s) with other businesses that can purchase it at a discount (think large caterers like Sodexo, which service the mines, or organisations like Accor Hotels that have a commitment to food waste reduction). Any food that isn’t sold can be offered for donation, so it’s a win-win-win. We love food, and our goal is to make sure that every plate finds a table!

What are you working on right now?

This is a really exciting time for Yume. We have been working on a pilot program funded by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to develop new technology that can facilitate the donation of food products through our platform. So if something is not sold through our marketplace, the food manufacturers can choose the food charity of their choice, and our automated processes facilitate the donation. Using technology means that processes are shorter and more efficient so more food gets donated and less food gets wasted. We are still in the pilot phase but aim to launch this tool around Australia to significantly increase food donations.

You’ve been selected by our panel as being someone who has a vision for the future of Melbourne – what do you think it is about your work that’s so visionary?

I honestly never see myself through that lens. The key to my work has been to see market failures and imbalances and then create innovative, sustainable and simple solutions to address them. For example, when we started SecondBite the concept of “rescuing food” was relatively new with no one focusing on fresh food as it was deemed too difficult to handle. Now the term “rescuing food” is commonplace, and fresh food is redistributed by all food rescue organisations in some form or another. Then, eight years ago I created Spade and Barrow, whose aim was to bring imperfect surplus produce purchased directly from farmers straight into people’s homes. Now, this type of service is popping up everywhere around the world. With Yume, we are driving transformational change in the food industry by re-imagining the way companies look at surplus products. We are shifting focus by helping them understand that waste doesn’t need to be an unfortunate necessity of doing business. Instead through technology, we can provide greater visibility and a wider avenue to market to give food products the value they actually deserve and prevent millions of kilos from going to waste. 

What kind of future would you like to see for Melbourne?

A sustainable one! 

What advice would you give to others seeking to make a change in your industry? 

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so be prepared for the journey ahead. And remember that lots of doors will close before the right ones open. The moment to act is now, we really have no time to waste. Find the right industry leaders that understand that, and work with them to drive the much-needed revolutionary change we need.

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