Helen Andrew is the creator of Spare Harvest, and of Priority Purpose, and is just launching a new community, The Regenerative Alliance,
Helen’s childhood and Early Career
Helen’s mum was the community nurse and her Dad the community ambulance driver. They were well known within the community. With the ambulance parked outside, every injury, large or small, would knock on their front door.
She watched her Mum mix sports runs and home visits on a Saturday. Her Dad grew food, and it was Helen’s job to take out the scrap bucket for composting. She hated the smell and would throw it as hard as she could, leaving it for her Dad to dig it but enjoy the resulting produce. Her Dad says that of their three children, Helen was the least likely to have ever shown any later interest in food production, yet, ironically, she is the only one who did.
In year 12, Helen wrote in her yearbook, “Crisis sparks opportunity.” She was hoping to become a lawyer but was told that she was not intelligent enough to go to university and plunged into three or four years of depression. She started a few jobs, getting fired from the first two or three. Later, she says, she was hired on personality rather than experience.
Over time, she became Marketing Manager for Events Asia Pacific but decided to quit her career to be a full-time Mum. Her husband was away a lot, being an international pilot. Helen has enormous sympathy for women who give up jobs to stay at home and look after the children. She describes it as a grieving process, giving up income and independence to spend time with your children who cannot even hold a conversation. It took Helen two or three years till she came to love it.
The Spare Harvest Community Concept
The family moved to the Sunshine Coast, with Helen deciding she wanted to find a property where she could grow a few things. They found a property with fruit trees and established vegetable beds. That summer, their backyard produced such a bumper crop of fruit, kumquats, pawpaw, lemons, and especially mandarins.
Helen did not know what to do with them all. The neighbors had too many; even the children’s school teacher had too many of her own. It was the same story on Facebook; people attempting to force their surplus onto others in the local community regardless of it being needed.
Helen ended up burying the mandarins. She also wanted to find a better solution, changing the dynamic to connect people to others for when they had a need, rather than offload unwanted goods.
The Entrepreneurial Journey
Helen started Spare Harvest in 2016. When she had last been at work, there was no tech, no social media. Helen threw herself in the deep end and signed up for a Techstars Startup Weekend.
During the weekend, Helen shared her concept with twenty people and found she was voted one of the top ideas, which meant having a team to help develop it. Fifty-four hours of hard work gave her both validation and a more detailed plan.
Through the children’s school, she met a young guy with IT knowledge, and they built the first platform. It was clunky, and the user experience was poor. They had a few attempts before they created something they were happy with. Nicholas has become almost a member of the family to them now.
It was tough. Helen also developed partnerships and was doing all the community engagement. Her family comes first, which meant continually prioritizing. She would check her diary for children’s activities before making work commitments. If their father was flying, and she was needed at home, Helen’s meeting did not happen.
Spare Harvest set out to build a community of people who felt the same way, that by sharing what they had extra in their kitchens or gardens, they could achieve a more sustainable way of life. The platform was free to community members.
Helen saw that creating a community that shared had another benefit in building community resilience as they benefited from the connection of giving and receiving.
Climate Change and kitchen and garden waste
The more Helen learned, the more she became passionate about the circular economy and its effects on the planet. Any organic matter produces gasses. People assume when they have lettuce, it dissolves when thrown away in the same way it starts to in the fridge. Not so. If buried in a landfill, it does not get the oxygen that causes the breakdown. In Canada recently, they found twenty-year-old lettuces without any decomposition.
In landfills, organic matter produces both CO2 and methane gas. Food waste, therefore, heats the planet 20 times faster than other waste. For example, your food waste will have a higher environmental footprint than your vehicle waste. If you want to find out more about this, Helen suggests looking at Project Drawdown. The other colossal difference between methane and CO2 gas is that methane speeds up the heat of the earth incredibly fast in comparison to CO2 and vice versa. Stopping methane gas will bring the heat down much quicker than reducing CO2 on its own.
Many of us believe glass jars are no threat because we send them off to be recycled. The problem lies in contamination. If the jar has the slightest bit of contamination, that means the whole load will be unsuitable for recycling.
The Spare Harvest Community in Action:
Once the fruit and vegetable side of Spare Harvest was underway, Helen had been putting her jars on for recycling. She connected with a local lady who was donating homemade pickles to a local charity. Care Outreach initially asked her to make 2,000 jars for hampers. While that volume was too great, Mrs. Pickles as she is fondly known does supply them with jars the outreach workers gift on the doorstep on their “are you ok” visits in their community in Western Queensland.
Another example of a successful connection by Spare Harvest was between a farmer with 50 empty feed bags. A group of volunteers turned them into shopping bags and sold them at $10. The $500 then went to Drought Aid
Helen funded Spare Harvest from corporate partnerships, where she would go into local businesses and talk about their work and the circular economy to promote staff engagement. She also presented a sustainability report regularly on ABC Sunshine Coast.
When Covid hit, all funding ceased to be an option. Helen had connected with someone in the USA who was developing something similar. Lots of discussion during 2020 lead to a formal offer from them to acquire Spare Harvest.
The US company was building a similar community space for gardeners to share. There will even be a plant library, and as an aerospace engineer, the new owner is developing tech to help in the garden. Helen can see that her community will benefit, and she is involved in the handover, even helping to brainstorm the new brand. The same spirit will live on.
Helen had experienced for herself how hard life can be without finding your purpose. Spending time with other social entrepreneurs, she saw many who are so busy fixing the problems and forgetting who they are. The problem with that is that you have so much advice flung at you. It is all too easy to absorb the wrong information if you aren’t grounded in your why and make bad choices.
Making poor choices, they would more easily lose direction and suffer financial or emotional loss as a result. Having that purpose increases resilience, clarity, and meaning, and in doing so, improves your wellbeing. Perhaps above all, it means your existence has an impact.
Helen founded Priority Purpose in 2021 with the vision of helping people live more meaningful lives. She had created a road map, listening to others when she was helping and mentoring them to help people find their “why” and identify their values.
She spends time with students and mentors both individuals and businesses to find their purpose to do business better. Helen loves to work on that one-to-one basis with her local community, but it is just a part of where her interests lie.
The Regenerative Alliance
In 2020 she had participated in an online workshop by the United Nations on the Circular Economy and their 2030 Agenda. She regularly delivers a social connection workshop at a Permaculture Design course, setting out permaculture principles to guide people to live a more socially sustainable life.
While she was letting go of Spare Harvest and enjoying Priority Purpose, Helen was aware of many strings going on in her life. There was her family, service in the community, the circular economy, social entrepreneurship, growing food, democracy, and all that together with a growing concern for the planet, both in terms of climate change and the disconnect of the human beings on it. She kept thinking that we need to come together and stop focussing on their day-to-day needs.
It all came together in her mind. As Helen puts it, her Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is to bring the planet together to heal. She believes that the environment cannot be healed until the human species is healed. In part, The Alliance will draw from the UN Sustainability Development Goals but it will be more than that.
As with Spare Harvest, she aims to create a community of like-minded people. This new project is The Regenerative Alliance. A platform has started; a LinkedIn and Twitter account has just begun.
Helen believes that socially-minded companies are starved of investment because funding on offer is too full of governance, be it via governments or investors. Investment should be about intent, not about your corporate structure. Her vision is to have the biggest democratically run investment fund in the world.
The business model will be cooperative, with the members of the community owning it on a one-member, one-vote basis. Of their membership fee, half will go to operational and development costs ..The other half will be invested in individuals and enterprises focused on healing the planet.
Another arm of the Alliance will offer a regenerative certification framework that will guide and educate its members as they move towards a regenerative state. Helen believes that to work successfully towards the SDGs, be they in education or health and wellbeing, we need to view sharing resources differently. If a school in New Zealand is proving wonderfully successful, we need to share what they have found work and what doesn’t with a school somewhere else.
Helen’s purpose is to lift people up, to help them be the best for the world, not just in the world. but the processes of doing that vary. Spare Harvest was her baby. With the Regenerative Alliance, she feels she will be standing back and letting it breathe. She sees it in terms of natural growth, a seed she has planted, for which you need the right people to germinate, and then other people to help it grow. Specific ideas can change and develop.
Helen is putting out a call to people who want to come together within the new community and regenerate and heal the planet. Those who are fully committed will become founding members of the Regenerative Alliance.
Further reading on this site that might be of interest could include the founders’ story of Pentatonic who were also early pioneers of the circular economy. If you would like to know more about being guided by your north star, it is something social entrepreneur Durell Coleman, founder of DC Design shares thoughts on within Scale for Success