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'Humble Sampler' is supporting small-scale food makers to thrive

Dr Gloria Martinez, Head of Policy and Development, Humble Sampler

I have always known the connecting power of food. My best memories of family and friendship are set over a dining table, for hours on end, enjoying delicious dishes, lively conversations and lots of laughter.

My grandad also used to have a vegetable garden, and you could always find me picking the beans and eating them straight from the plant, or munching on the carrots. The flavours were incredible! Tomatoes though, were the bane of his existence, but when they were good, they were soooo good and the family would devour them in a matter of days. He was very proud of his garden.

So when I was offered the opportunity to work with small-scale food entrepreneurs I could not say no. I absolutely love the passion that food makers have for the food and products they produce, the innovative ideas, the desire for healthy and sustainable approaches to eating and food. I am inspired every day.

Our focus at Humble Sampler are food makers that are underrepresented in the food industry or that have a history of being marginalised and face barriers that others don’t. As a migrant myself, and an avid traveller (well, before the pandemic hit!) I also know how hard it is to start afresh in a new country, having to learn and operate in a new language, with no connections or networks. A place where your qualifications or past experiences might not be valued or recognised. I absolutely cherish being able to learn from others and create opportunities to make a positive social impact.

Through the work that I do at Humble Sampler, I have come to discover so many products made by small-scale food entrepreneurs that are incredible. Healthy, organic, innovative, delicious and unique products made by people that don’t always have a technical background in food, or hospitality qualifications, but that nonetheless use their passion for food to connect, share and inspire. I have also come to hear many stories about the challenges faced by food makers to get their businesses registered and off the ground, to find the information they need, to be pointed in the right direction or connected with an individual or service that can provide assistance.

It was through this work that I learnt about Sustain and the work that is being done to promote and build healthy and sustainable food systems and to facilitate the systems change that will make this possible. Systems change is definitely a focus area for us at Humble Sampler, especially to champion and amplify food maker voices in order to reduce structural impediments for budding food entrepreneurs to start or grow their food businesses no matter their background. As part of our activities, we share our experiences working with food makers, and our research and knowledge with institutions to raise awareness and improve outcomes, and I am very excited to be able to do this as a Sustain member.

We also have a range of gift hampers that are a vehicle for small-scale food businesses to grow their market access. Our hampers are ethical and sustainable and are all about supporting small and micro-businesses, run by people who aren’t normally featured in mainstream hampers or shops. The majority of the businesses featured in our hampers are women-owned, with a large proportion being from migrant and refugee backgrounds. A big point of difference is that each hamper includes at least one product that is made by an Aboriginal-owned business. We wanted to ensure that we didn’t limit the opportunity for people to purchase products made by First Nations food makers by just making one Indigenous products hamper, so we made sure that every purchase with us, provides the opportunity to support one or more First Nations owned business and taste products that customers might never have heard of, but that will soon become fast favourites!

There’s also a lot of love that goes into our hampers, from the products to the packaging, to how we curate them. We get feedback that people can feel all this love and care, and this is something we feel is pretty special and not something we’ve experienced from any hampers in the past. In the last year, our gift hampers featured 27 food makers, with 23 of them being women-owned businesses, 13 food makers from CALD backgrounds and 8 First Nations owned and operated businesses.

As we grow our hamper activities and impact, we are aiming to incorporate business support and incubation for food makers in the first couple of years of their business, in order to increase their market access, business acumen and social capital so that they and their businesses can thrive. Connecting with local government authorities, food producers and other actors in the food system will be a key focus for our activities and we are looking forward to creating new partnerships and collaborations.

By the end of 2022, I am also hoping to set up my own vegetable garden at home. I don’t know that I will be able to match my grandad’s garden, the bar has been set rather high. But I do hope that the process inspires in my kids the same love for food, and for knowing where it comes from, to enjoy it together, to ignite that little bit of passion. Who knows what that might lead to in the future!