“Paddock to plate” is not an entirely new concept in dining, but it is playing an increasingly important role in urban environments.
As more people are drawn to sustainable living, many seek to better connect with where their food comes from. In the last few years, I’ve noticed community gardens and farmers’ markets sprouting up in various neighbourhoods. This groundswell offers many benefits, from preserving and re-purposing green space to feed communities, to affording a creative outlet for budding horticulturalists, an educational opportunity and a slower, more hands-on connection to nature which brings respite from the hurried hustle of daily life.
Australian cafés and restaurants are increasingly participating in this movement too, growing their own herbs, fruits and vegetables to supplement the other produce they source from ethical food suppliers. And these sustainable eateries can be a real experiential drawcard for the visitor!
Opening in June 2016, Acre Eatery in Sydney’s Camperdown has a truly unique collaboration, sharing prime inner city real estate with not-for-profit group, Pocket City Farms, who are dedicated to transforming neglected spaces into viable growing space for organic produce. Housed on the site of a former bowling green, the farm supplies Acre Eatery with a broad harvest, from root vegetables, to leafy greens, herbs, fruits including apples and citrus, as well as walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts. It also runs gardening workshops and yoga classes and together, both businesses are aiming for a “closed loop” operation that includes composting, recycling and reducing water use.
Acre occupies the former clubhouse and the entire venue seats around 350. From the moment you arrive, you know it is going to be a very special dining experience. Walking up the long path to the eatery, you pass impressive rows of vegetables and herbs on either side of the softly lit walkway. The spacious industrial-inspired interior boasts high ceilings and long wooden dining tables and bench seats, enclosed in glass windows and doors – it’s understated and visually stunning.
On a busy Friday night, there’s a buzzy vibe and 13 chefs in the kitchen. The delicious Modern Australian-style food is beautifully presented and there’s a bar where you can sit and have bar food rather than dine in the restaurant.
In Manly, Belgrave Cartel is another venue making a contribution to sustainability, by maintaining a rooftop beehive and herb garden. Recognising the importance of honeybees to the health of our environment, Belgrave Cartel is doing its bit to preserve dwindling world bee populations, for which they and their patrons are richly rewarded with the delectable organic honey they use throughout their Italian-influenced menu and also offer for sale. The onsite hive is the initiative of The Urban Beehive, who approach residents, businesses and government to encourage them to tend hives as a way of maintaining honeybee numbers while raising awareness of the broader environmental impact.
Over in Alexandria, The Grounds dining precinct has transformed a 1920s industrial site into a thriving sustainable permaculture garden, coffee roastery and bakery, opening in 2012. With 3 main dining spaces, it’s their Garden sustainable space that provides the produce, the urban-rustic allure and a small animal farm with resident chickens, goats and ‘celebrity’ pig, Kevin Bacon.
On any day or night of the week, The Grounds is alive with visitors and diners coming together as its own community to share the experiences on offer, from coffee workshops to weekly artisan and growers’ markets and, of course, the Modern Australian-style food.
These enterprises are providing a much-needed sense of community, collaboration and connection that’s all too often lost in our fast-paced, solitary, digital world. With open spaces on the decrease, community and rooftop or balcony gardens may provide the only way for people to grow their own food. Meanwhile, the sustainable practices of these venues offer insight and inspiration into ways we can incorporate more full-circle sustainability in our own lives. And, judging by their popularity, people are keen to learn.
Image owned by Jennifer Aaron