Wouldn’t it be cool if your fave cafe fed a local farm too – but instead of serving up brunch, it fed its food scraps to the soil on the farm? Phil Garozzo has turned that dream into Not.Waste Farm.
As part of their Farm to plate tour, our Brisbane crew visited Loop Growers, ending with a spectacular meal at Merriweather cafe, who supplies the farm with its compost ingredients! We thought we’d have a quick catch up with Phil about the closed loop farming he’s practising and how we can bring the philosophy to our backyards too.
What do you do differently on your farm compared to most Australian farms and why?
Well the way most conventional Australian veggie farms operate – large scale monoculture, herbicide and pesticide dependant operations – is probably the reason we arrived at farming. Not because we wanted to do what they did, but rather, because we wanted to revolt and do something different. Something empowering. I guess we have joined a growing movement of people all over the world getting back to traditional methods of farming. This empowers us every day we get up to go out into the patch.
On a practical level what we do do differently, even than a lot of small-scale organic farms, is incorporate a closed loop system into our processes. This means that the majority of the veg we sell and therefore the quantity of organic matter we pull from the soil is balanced out by coffee grounds and veggie scraps that we collect from our customers, who are mainly cafes.
We make compost from the scraps and rely on that biology to help us grow veg for our customers.
So to put it in perspective; this compost forms the majority of the inputs we put into our soil, as opposed to most large scale operations which rely on chemical amendments to supplement plant growth.
As a farmer, what would be your top tip to those starting out with growing their own food?
Learn how to make great compost!
We are constantly learning about soil biology and how it allows our plants to grow and flourish. Long ago we realised, that as a foundation, compost and all the biological richness it brings, is crucial to growing plants without chemical fertilizers.
When you start a garden by building compost, you begin a journey that ends with an understanding of how vast the community of micro-organisms living within our soils actually is. Tending one’s garden is more about caring for soil biology than anything else. Healthy plants and food are just a byproduct of this relationship.
Also – learn what’s seasonal! No broccoli in summer!
Find out what’s going to thrive in your garden before you buy seed or tube stock. Buy it from local suppliers (not Bunnings) and don’t give up if your first or second or third lot fail. Even as professional growers we manage to kill plants constantly.
What are the best parts of your job?
Waking up to the birds just before dawn and knowing there’re a whole day ahead to appreciate the rest of it. No offices await us.
What do you think is the simplest way eaters can better support farmers?
Find out where food is coming from before you buy it. When you do this you are striving to reduce its miles, which has massive impacts on our environment, local economy and prospects for future survival.
And just go to the markets once a week and meet your local growers. This is a good way to at least avoid products from overseas.
Apart from this, get involved with organisations like Food Connect who are really the leaders when it comes to bringing ethical food to the general public.
What food marketing BS would you like to call out as a farmer?
It’s a bit hard to take on board any of the marketing and advertising put out by Coles and Woolworths, especially for anyone involved in the Real Food Movement, but it seems right now that Coles and Woolies are responding directly to the growing local food movement with a bit of green washing. There is a conscious marketing effort to show the faces of the farmers who own the land where food is coming from. This definitely gives the impression to the lay person that these companies are totally in step with local, real food and that there is therefore no need to seek food elsewhere.
Here is what we are calling out – that the processes of Coles and Woolworths haven’t changed even though they are making it seem like their tomatoes are coming from a bloke just around the corner. Their distribution models still make it hard farmers to grow responsibly and meet demands without stressing their soils.
Image credit: Not.Waste farm, Melanie Dunn