Face down, on the edge of its life, a turtle awaits discovery on the beach. Before it is found, it will grow barnacles all over its face, beak and body, resembling a deadly outbreak of smallpox. It is unsure how long it has been stranded on the beach, alone, starving and scared. On his ritual morning run, Paul found this turtle and endeavoured to save its rapidly thinning life. “It just had no energy at all so I carried it all the way home… about 3kms” said Paul. At about 40cm long carrying the turtle “got heavy” but Paul persevered and brought it home, where it was then taken under the care of Taronga Zoo. The turtle eventually passed away due to ingesting cling wrap. “When they have plastic in their stomach it can form air bubbles and puts off their equilibrium” a turtle is then stuck on the surface unable to dive for food, “slowly dying from exhaustion”. It was this scene, among many other events witnessed in his 15 years of morning runs, which triggered Paul Hellier to begin the Fair Food Forager, an upstarting business that stands for the pursuit of ethics and environmental awareness- starting with the food we eat.
Paul’s love for the environment began at an early age. He fondly remembers gazing at glassy rock pools with his grandfather, admiring the creatures below, thriving in their natural habitat. He remembers a starfish in particular, maybe for the way the sun made its colours shine through the water. The trip down to the rock pools Paul notes as his earliest memory of his love for the earth and the creatures within it and has shaped his life and sense of purpose throughout high school and into adulthood. Throughout high school Paul volunteered for national parks and currently spends his Saturday mornings, a time when many of us would enjoy hitting the snooze button and staying in bed, planting trees throughout the Wollongong area.
Even from his young years in school, Paul had a strong mind on where he saw his future career. He had a certainty towards a future working with the environment. Paul works in natural area management and has completed both a TAFE certificate in environmental monitoring and technology; and an Environmental Science Degree through the University of Wollongong. When Paul first left high school, however, he felt no great urge to commit to further study and instead became a lifeguard, a job which suited his lifestyle and allowed him to work in a department closely related to nature. “Being a lifeguard was unreal you know you want to be a hero… it was a dream” said Paul. On the downside of this dream job, however, he notes that it’s a position where he found himself consistently looking for the “lowest common denominator”, the misfits, those that exemplified bad behaviour.
Following a spell overseas travelling and after his job as a customs officer, Paul came back home and picked up work as a lifeguard once again. However, round two was a different experience. Being exposed to the world beyond home, along with time, had changed his motivations and what was once the dream job had now become mentally exhausting. He had found that as with lifeguard duties, his customs officer job had him constantly looking for, and focusing on, the wrong-doers. “I didn’t want to rescue people anymore, ” said Paul quickly adding “not that I wanted people to die” whilst laughing light-heartedly. It is at this point in his life, returning from travel in Europe, the UK, and America, where Paul commits to first his TAFE certificate, the year after which he commenced his degree in Environmental Science; feeling a greater drive to study than his 15 year old self, a boy with aspirations of becoming a ranger but having no desires for further study.
During this period, Paul kept permanent lifeguard work and volunteered in bush regeneration for Bushcare, immersing himself within a community of like-minded people with a shared mission of preservation. Bushcare offered for Paul a gateway into the life he had imagined since his 15-year-old self sat in a classroom dreaming of the outdoors. In the offseason, lifeguards would “carry out various tasks for council” which, for Paul, included work in the environmental department, a role in which he educated others on sustainability; mainly in schools and amongst young people. He was also in charge of what plants they would use in bush regeneration plans and he says that he “got a kick out of that”. One year, Paul was called on for help with Bushcare and through this, he gained the title and position of the Bushcare Officer for Wollongong. He held this position for 3-4 years. His new role gave him a different perspective and he appreciated “working with people trying to make a difference”. It also allowed him to find work in a field where he could focus on the bigger picture and initiate small changes that have a domino effect in creating bigger, more positive impacts on the environment. His cooperation with Bushcare placed him in the midst of change and visions of hope for the future. He proudly said of his time in Bushcare that “volunteers would plant 20,000 plants a year across the entirety of Wollongong”, an achievement that exemplified his philosophy of small steps pathing a long journey towards reconnecting with earth and understanding how best to use and nurture its resources. This sentiment which he strives to share sparked a nerve within him to forge his company the Fair Food Forager.
The dying turtle among other sad tales of animals suffering the harms of litter began Paul contemplating a way to enact greater, more effective change in the habits and attitudes held towards our environment. “It’s great that I’m planting trees and I’m picking up rubbish on my own beach but how can I make a bigger impact, Instagram” said Paul explaining his mentality going into his project for Fair Food Forager. An aim of Fair Food Forager is to reach a wide audience and make caring for the environment a simple task and even more importantly an enjoyable one. Through being easily accessible and enjoyable, FFF (for short) hopes to reach a wide audience including people who may not have already had a passion for the environment like Paul. “It’s funny, you go to a farmer’s market or a sustainable workshop or a bush walk… and it’s always the same…you see the same faces over and over again” said Paul, an observation that he felt needed to be rectified in the way he created FFF and to avoid “preaching to the converted all the time”. He felt technology was surely the way to go.
Paul found himself once again as a student, enrolling in the School for Social Entrepreneurs offered in Wollongong. His study involved starting a business that has a positive impact on people or the environment. “There were 13 of us; 12 girls and me… For some reason I was the only [interested] male in Wollongong” said Paul noting how strange it was being the only male in the course. He gained many valuable skills and learnt from people with experience, gearing himself for the start of the FFF journey. It has been met with enthusiasm and Paul hopes FFF will spread even more following the launch of its Apple and Android apps, a commitment setting Paul back $40,000. If that doesn’t show his passion then there’s not much else that would. FFF has a social aspect and incorporates trends to make it effective in capturing the attention of the wider audience Paul has sought after. The FFF Instagram and blog is flooded with beautiful photos of sustainable food outlets and breathtaking landscapes and nature photos; photography proving to be another strong point among many in Paul’s possession.
Perhaps it is his keen eye for the world around him that has highlighted his interest in the natural world, or maybe conversely, his keen eye for the world around him comes from his interest in the environment in all its fine and greater detail. Without a doubt his drive to put into action his beliefs has served him well and brought him far. He is someone who looks beyond the mundane and focuses on what he sees as the bigger picture, ticking off goal after goal on his list to achieve making this bigger picture a reality. In the words of Paul “we need to change” and he will always be on the search for any way in which he can make this change our shared reality.
Paul with his shadow and beloved friend Moose “If you care about the environment, you care about everything”- Paul
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Photo credit: The Fair Food Forager website