Project Description

Society’s biggest challenges won’t be solved by government, not-for-profits or communities alone. Successfully addressing these complex social, environmental and economic challenges requires an ecosystem approach that enables key stakeholders, whole communities, academics, entrepreneurs and innovators to come together and cocreate replicable and scalable solutions.

In 2016, Doing Something Good ran a 10 week accelerator program for ventures and community projects aimed at making Melbourne’s food system healthy, sustainable, secure, resilient and socially inclusive. Building on a program of events that started with the EcoCity Food Forum in 2013, the second Local Food Launchpad program in 2016 worked with 15 participants to develop 11 concepts that hold the potential to improve our food system and build a better food future for the people of Melbourne. This is one of them.

Learn more about the 2016 Local Food Launchpad here. Discover other Local Food Launchpad projects here.

How might we engage the wider community to ensure those facing crises have access to fresh fruit and vegetables?

Tiny Trowel

Collaborating with organizations that supply to the food insecure to develop sustainable approaches using permaculture principles.

The big issue

Food relief suppliers are communicating that the numbers presenting for relief are growing beyond the capacity to meet demand.

Compelled to action

The ABS provides overwhelming data on Australia’s homelessness issues, and connected to this is food insecurity.

Food Relief Providers are reporting that the increasing numbers of those presenting for assistance is increasing to the point where they can no longer meet the need.

On Census night 2011 there were 105,237 people experiencing homelessness, with 45,813 or 44% of these women. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census Data (2011)


Food relief providers are reporting that the increasing numbers of those presenting for assistance is increasing to the point where they can no longer meet the need.

Domestic and family violence/Homelessness/Food Insecurity

Women are more likely to be victims of domestic and family violence, and because of this threat to their safety women (and children) are forced, or make decisions to leave their home. Over a third of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical, psychological and/or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner. Mouzos & Makkai, 2004, International Violence Against Women Survey

Domestic and family violence is the number one reason why people present to specialist homeless services, with 55% of female clients citing this reason and a total of 25% of all clients.  Each of these people running from family violence needs to find food security during this period of instability.

Another way is possible

Creating self-sustaining community food practices through Permaculture practices

Permaculture: (Permanent – Agriculture)  Definition: the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

I believe that food security for all Victorians is possible, and we can achieve it by partnering with the wider community to supply need.

Throughout Melbourne there are large segments of the community farming their home back yards, running food swaps and cultivating community gardens.  Permaculture principles are a common theme with a broad following.  Further, there is a large population of people heading into retirement who either cultivated their back yards and can no longer manage them, or are looking for ways to socially connect.  Seeing the example of St. Colombs in Hawthorn  where a faith community grow food on their faith location and chef up the food for the café, thereby teaching local homeless people how to be self sustaining. This is a model to replicate.  STREAT in Cromwell Street Collingwood, also demonstrate this approach as an exemplar for sustainable food relief.  Better than food relief, its an example of empowerment.

Further, throughout Melbourne we have large communities living by The Mediterranean Village principles of growing food in their ¼ acre blocks and sharing the excess with the neighbours. Millions of people immigrated to Melbourne from the Mediterranean post WW2, and applied their culture to the new land.

The food is siting in the backyards of Melbourne – all we need to do is harvest it.

By harnessing the power of the crowd, and applying permaculture principles or the style of the Mediterranean Village, Victorians can supply enough fruit and vegetables to alleviate the needs of those facing food crisis.

My big idea

Tiny Trowel aims to harness the generosity of the wider community by:

  1. providing avenues through which home produce gardeners might donate fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables to food relief providers – ‘Crowd Harvests’.
  2. developing faith community projects to cultivate their property and enrich their established food relief programs – ‘Crowd Sharing’.
  3. building permaculture food gardens to supply to food relief providers and social enterprise cafes – ‘Crowd Gardens’
  4. running training programs to empower all community members to raise their own home produce gardens – ‘Crowd Training’.
  5. consulting around adding edible plants to established company rooftops for the benefit of food relief providers – ‘Crowd Tops’.


Where I started

Tiny trowel started with the assumption that faith communities who already provide food relief would be interested in finding a cost effective way to raise more produce, while simultaneously engaging the time rich yet socially isolated in their communities.  Hesitation around whether faith communities would pay for consultation services to bring this vision to life was apparent.  Questions around how to make the vision financially viable was real, and so the reason for signing up to Local Food Launchpad.

1 in 6 Australians report having experienced food insecurity at least once in the last 12 months and for over a quarter of them it is a regular occurrence. Demand for emergency food relief increased by 8% in 2015.

What I learned

Learning took many facets throughout the feasibility study.  I learned that faith community providers of food relief were very enthusiastic to hear how permaculture principles could assist them, and yet the financial resources to move towards new approaches was limited.

Hearing about STREAT, an experimental‘Crowd Farming’ event and customer surveys proved the assumption that generous Melbourne gardeners would willingly give time, plants and expertise to any food garden installation.

Looking for a financial viability model, the concept of consulting around rooftop productive garden installations was researched.  The concept was to establish a Social Enterprise by having the rooftop enterprise fund the giving to the other customer segments and NFP food relief providers.  Research led me to believe that Melbourne requires a professional longitudinal research project to establish any extensive rooftop greening.

Surveys with NFP food providers led me to believe that partnering with NFP providers to engage the ‘Crowd’ to supply ample fresh produce seems to be the way forward.  Any financial viability would need to be in a NFP framework, seeking sponsorship.

What’s next

The inaugural Melbourne ‘Crowd Harvest’.

FareShare have agreed to partner with Tiny Trowel to run a ‘Crowd Harvest’ event.  Two venues have been approached – The City of Melbourne and a faith community in the northern suburbs.  Any produce donated that can’t be used by FareShare will go through their networks to other NFPs such as The Salvation Army and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.

What we need

  1. The City of Melbourne to partner and open up a pubic space for the FareShare truck pick up point, on a weekend date over the next few months.
  2. A corporate sponsor to help finance the Comms/Video package.
  3. A mentor to assist in setting up the legals around an NFP.
  4. A faith community willing to open up their facilities and land to cultivate the land and community engagement.

A little about me

Cath Lyons 

Cath has a vision to provide new pathways for communities to come together and bring fresh produce to those facing food insecurity and lightening the load of food crisis providers.  She has worked tirelessly in past charitable endeavours, successfully bringing together communities to fulfil various visions; in festivals, in large musical theatre direction, in state wide recruitment and in state-wide education improvement implementation.  Cath now turns her hand to finding solutions for food relief providers.

Like to know more or want to work with me? Please get in touch.


Email Cath at

Phone Cath on 0401 814 679