In Collingwood, one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs, on Smith Street, one of Melbourne’s oldest main drags, lies Friends of the Earth, one of Melbourne’s oldest health food shops.
FOE has been functioning in that space as a grocer and café downstairs/environmental enterprise upstairs for over 15 years. Far before then, circa 1975, Friends of the Earth existed as a co-operative market based in Carlton. It is almost entirely volunteer run, and relies on donations and community support to keep it functioning.
FOE is a space that puts action behind words, instilling environmentally conscious values in everything that they do. All of their products are palm-oil free; most are organic and locally sourced. The co-op was promoting zero waste initiatives before that was on anyone’s radar.
They offer bulk food shopping, reusable containers, chemical-free beauty and cleaning supplies, recycled toilet paper. This place is a hippie’s dream and a Woolie’s regulars’ worst nightmare. There is nary a name brand to be found, and the ones that are there are likely unrecognisable to the untrained eco shopper.
But groceries aren’t all that’s on offer at Friends of the Earth. They have an affordable and delectable daily menu of vegan baked goods, house-made rolls and pizzas, vegetarian pies and an organic/vegan/gluten-free dish of the day. ($10 for a small and $12 for a large gets you a grain, one to two salads, a hot dish of some sort, and sometimes an extra such as an arancini ball or dollop of fresh hummus.)
There is also a full fridge of cold drinks and a full menu of hot. The place is always bustling with moms pushing prams, business people on their lunch break, employees from the upstairs offices coming down for a hit of caffeine. Yet the vibe is warm and friendly, never rushed nor overwhelming like some fast-casual eating establishments. This may be because, given most staff’s volunteer status, they are there by choice (which shines through in service and in demeanour).
For those looking to have an impact beyond where they put their dollars, Friends of the Earth is constantly running events, workshops and campaigns to combat concerns both social and environmental in nature. Get involved with FOE and you can expect to learn about anti-nuclear war efforts, renewable energy, alternatives to fracking, and promotion of land/water rights for Indigenous communities.
This place is true to its name- employees and customers alike act as friends/good stewards of the earth and one another. I can wholeheartedly say that in the time I’ve lived in Melbourne thus far, I’ve yet to find a more authentic and conscious community.
If real food, real people and real change are what you’re after, look no further than the OG health hub of Melbourne’s inner north.
FOE is always looking for volunteers, so stop in or shoot them a message if you would like to get involved. The shop is located at 312 Smith St. in Collingwood.