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Carlton Kitchen Library connects locals through food

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By Sophie Raynor

Carlton home cooks are tackling complex and creative recipes with ease thanks to a Lygon Street library loaning out uncommon kitchen appliances – and bringing neighbours together in the process.

Holding more than 400 items, including bread makers, deep fryers and pasta machines, the library helps locals cook nutritious and interesting meals without crowding cupboards with unnecessary or expensive equipment.

For library coordinator Peta Christensen, it’s a way of making nutritious food more accessible, while also eliminating waste.

“We’re thinking about people on low incomes, people experiencing disadvantage, who might not be able to access the kitchen equipment that makes preparing food more realistic or accessible,” she said.

“We live in the inner city, we don’t have huge kitchens with storage spaces, and the library is a good solution. It’s a whole-of-community resource. We all don’t need to own an ice cream machine we might use three times in four years.”

The library’s 83 members pay an annual fee of $40 or $20 concession price to access items – electronics are cleaned, tested and tagged every six months by volunteer members and staff at Cultivating Community, the not-for-profit that launched the library in November 2019.

It opened its doors in an old Office of Housing filing cupboard at the base of the Carlton public housing estate after discussions with residents, community members, the primary school and local not-for-profits about ideas for community food projects that met locals’ needs.

The pandemic hindered early plans for regular feasts and cooking workshops during 2020, but the library still managed a handful of virtual events, an in-person pasta-making workshop, and a launch-day community feast.

Carlton estate resident Khanya Ibrahim cooked injera and falafel at that opening event, and said as one of the library’s founding members she was excited for its re-opening after last month’s circuit-breaker five-day lockdown.

“It’s good to have it; I can find what I want to use, like a big pot or a fryer if we have some kind of party or meeting and we don’t have that at home, and everything is under our building.”

She also appreciated the event kits of reusable cutlery and crockery offered by the library, which the library said had avoided the use of 2000 pieces of single-use plasticware.

Ms Christensen said the pandemic had enhanced a sense of localisation and interdependence within the Carlton community, with neighbourhoods constrained to five-kilometre radii and people recognising familiar faces – creating the community connection intended by the library project.

“An aspect of the library [membership] is that we ask people to do a couple of volunteer shifts each year. It’s an opportunity to actually feel invested in this; this is your library; you’re helping to take care of it; helping to keep the wheels turning,” she said.

New members from any location in Melbourne are welcome and encouraged, to relieve the library’s crowded shelves, and to help the grant-funded project gain a degree of financial stability. It is funded by a City of Melbourne social innovation partnership grant to mid-2021.

The library accepts select donations of kitchen equipment, tools and appliances, and maintains a wish list of sought-after items. A tortilla press, electric spice grinder, preserving equipment and unusual cake pans are some of the items currently on the list.

During coronavirus-imposed closures throughout 2020 and early 2021 the library is offering free delivery of items within a 10-kilometre radius. It is otherwise open to visitors on Friday mornings at 480 Lygon St •

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