Dig it

By jay

We dig into three businesses supporting gardening, from an on-site garden and bee-haven to a business supporting the local community garden, to a Wellington-based restaurant growing fresh, organic produce for its seasonally infused menu.

The bee’s knees

Ever since apiarist Claude Stratford began health and well-being business Comvita, it has been basing its business around bees.

Last year, the bees got a special treat – their own wildflower garden on the Bay of Plenty’s Paengaroa premises. The wildflower patch was set up as part of a larger on-site community garden. “It looks great and staff and visitors enjoy it too,” says Comvita Facilities Manager, Anne Blakeway.  “It’s much better than the lawns.”

The garden is part of a Paengaroa community initiative set up with the encouragement of Comvita CEO Brett Hewlett. It is staffed by a mix of Comvita workers and local Paengaroa community members and started with eight raised beds. It’s currently overflowing with courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, herbs, beans and broccoli. Leftovers are sold or given away to community members and the local school.

Fresh produce, including the strawberries, currants and raspberries from the ‘pudding garden’, is used in the on-site Café Restore, where visitors can also sup on souped-up smoothies loaded with Manuka honey and bee pollen.  The garden also contains beehives, serving as a reminder to the link between bees and pollination (bees are responsible for the pollination of about one third of food crops). There are also worm farms and a compost heap. 

“Since we opened the visitor experience in November 2013, the next logical step was to start growing our own produce to use in the Café.  Although our chef, Chris Hargreaves, is the first to admit that he isn’t really a gardener, he has led the project from day one,” says Anne. “It’s called the Paengaroa Community Garden as it really belongs to the community.  Comvita have donated the land and built some beautiful macrocarpa raised beds – now the rest is up to Chris and the community really.”

To learn more see the Paengaroa Community Garden Facebook page.

Secret urban gardens
Family-owned Trevelyan’s Pack and Cool have supported Te Puke township’s Herbit Vegit community garden since it was dreamed up by a group of energetic locals.

The garden has planned capacity for around 40 plots, plus worm farms, composting facilities and a children’s garden, sensory garden and seedling nursery in development. And there’s a fully-functioning piano. All in the middle of Te Puke, tucked away behind a giant supermarket.

The garden is tended to by members of the community, including family groups and a local preschool. The spinach, kale, beetroots, tomatoes, beans, kamo-kamo and other produce are donated to the food bank or given away.

Rachel Brodie, Trevelyan’s sustainability coordinator, also on the garden’s committee, stresses that supporting the garden is an important part of Trevelyan’s community care programme. “We aimto support initiatives in our region across sports, schools, health and the community that we feel are of benefit to the growers, staff and partners of our company. We also believe in the value of engagement and education. This is a great learning and sharing initiative, with the added benefit of healthy food for the neighbourhood.”

From garden to taco

Wellington’s Mexican restaurant La Boca Loca has been sourcing produce from its own gardens for over two years. The Miramar-based eatery, which started up four years ago, decided to experiment with growing-its-own to source tricky ingredients like heritage cucumbers, coriander and tomatillos.

The business, run by former Weta Digital VFX Editor and Mexican-food-fanatic, Lucas Putnam, and his partner Marianne Elliot, a former UN human rights advocate, has always been innovative in its methods.  From the get go, herbs flourished in planter boxes in and out the back of the restaurant, until a piece of land nearby came up for lease where the garden now stands.  

The business is also turning its food scraps into garden fodder. “We’ve just this year started harvesting our own compost, so we’re taking all the green waste from the kitchen, separating it out and making our own compost,” says Lucas. “Two beds this year are purely from our own compost. 

Establishing the garden-to-table ethos hasn’t been without its trials: the site faces south and is buffeted by blustery Wellington gales. The food supply also has to be supplemented, although Lucas admits it is his dream to one day grow enough to provide for the whole restaurant.  Most of the excess produce comes from an organic farm in Hawke’s Bay which grows chillies and exotic herbs. The produce can be dug and delivered in the same day, ensuring freshness.

Lucas says there’s a definite trend towards urban gardening, sustainability and traceability in the industry. “When it comes to fresh produce, it should be done locally as much as possible. You really don’t want to be shipping it too far; you don’t want to have it go too long between picking it and eating it.”

Left-over veggies get shared around friends and other Wellington chefs including Shep Elliot from Ti Kouka café. La Boca Loca staff are also involved in the garden, which means they can talk to customers about the provenance of the produce. “We’ve also got a few customers that are really interested and it’s definitely something that we as business owners like to push and promote,” says Lucas.

All three of these SBN members are leading the way by connecting community and biodiversity to their business models through their garden projects. We’re working on boosting Good Food businesses such as these through the Restorative Food project. From March SBN and ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development) will be running a Good Food mentoring project for up and coming restorative food businesses and in May we’ll be hosting an innovative forum on The Future of Food Business in New Zealand. If you’d like to know more about these projects, please contact Emily Dowding-Smith