Surplus Food, Community Fridges, and Good Food for All

The other week we were at Hot Numbers, visiting them as part of our Green Coffee Shop Scheme. They were deliberating over what to do with their surplus Kandula tea. It was past its best before date so couldn’t be sold, but as we know, ‘best before’ is not equal to a ‘use by’ date. In other words, this tea still had value: so, we offered to take it to Jimmy’s and Wintercomfort, knowing that they could still make a perfectly good brew out of it. This didn’t add anything to the distance our vans had to travel. Wintercomfort is opposite Radmore Farm Shop, which we visit already, and Jimmy’s is frequently passed by as part of a delivery route.

We’ve always said that the Food Hub does not operate as a conventional wholesaler. Yes, we look like one because we visit local retailers and caterers to deliver local goods. But then, we also pick up coffee grounds for recycling.

Really, the main thing the Food Hub does with our distribution system is to move resources efficiently between local businesses (i.e., “better supply chain coordination for environmental and social benefit”). The important thing is that these ‘resources’ don’t just have to be fabulous local goods or perfectly-formed fresh fruit and veg. As our Hot Numbers Kandula tea example demonstrates, we can help to reduce ‘waste’ by redistributing food products that are surplus to businesses.

Charities and community groups such as Jimmy’s, Wintercomfort, FoodCycle and Cambridge Holiday Lunches are all potential recipients of surplus, but good-quality, food, depending on requirements. We are also excited by the upcoming opening of new community fridges in Cambridge.

In 2017, Cambridge Sustainable Food (CSF) opened Cambridge’s first community fridge at the Edge Café on Mill Road. Following the success of this community fridge, CSF is planning on opening three more in the coming weeks. The fridges will be an important destination for surplus food (fruit, veg, bread, tinned and dried goods) donated by businesses and individuals.


What is a community fridge?

Information provided by CSF.

Community Fridges are public spaces where organisations and households can make perishable food that would have been wasted available to the local community. So far, Community Fridges have helped thousands connect to their communities, access nutritious food, save money and reduce waste!

Cambridge Sustainable Food partnered with The Edge Cafe, a community cafe and social enterprise, to install the city’s first Community Fridge in 2017. The fridge at The Edge is open Mon to Fri 8am – 4pm and Sat 9am to 4pm.

CSF are setting up three new Community Fridges in the city in Spring 2020. They will be located at:

Brown’s Field Youth & Community Centre, Green End Rd, Cambridge CB4 1RN

Buchan Street Neighbourhood Centre, 6 Buchan Street, Cambridge CB4 2XF

15 Barnwell Rd, Cambridge CB5 8RG


Our role in supporting the community fridges is logistical. We visit already many of the places that have, or might, sign up to donate surplus food (this is unsurprising because many of the businesses that form part of our ‘local food ecosystem’ are committed to acting as sustainably as possible and recognise the importance of supporting their community). We can efficiently collect surplus goods from these places at the same time as we make deliveries, reducing the number of ‘micro journeys’ that might otherwise have to be made by volunteers. It is then simple enough for us to finish a delivery round by taking all of the surplus food to the community fridges.

Collecting this surplus produce will be included as a Food Hub membership benefit for businesses. Membership already brings convenient access to local produce and service such as the coffee ground recycling. With membership we will ensure that operational costs are covered. These costs will already be reduced by the fact that collection of surplus food is being done as part of an existing food supply chain. This reduces the reliance on volunteers* – who are fabulous and generous in their provision of time, but also involve additional management and can be unpredictable due to time availability.

In collaboration with the Cambridge Food Poverty Alliance, we will also be trialling a veg box scheme for low-income families based on the social supermarket model. Look out for a blog post on that soon.

These projects are part of our ‘Good Food for All’, which is our commitment that the Food Hub plays a part in ensuring good-quality, healthy food is distributed more equitably throughout our community.

*This is not a slight against volunteers. I’m incredibly pro-volunteering, and in fact strongly encourage you to sign up as a volunteer to support the community fridges if you’re able to:

If you are a business or organisation with surplus food to donate, please complete this enquiry form and CSF will be in touch. To volunteer to help transport surplus food from businesses to the fridges, please sign up here.  

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