The boys from The Little Veggie Patch Co, who have successfully helped countless Melbournians in setting up veggie patches at home, have brought a Pop Up Patch garden to the CBD. Mat Pember and Fabian Capomolla are the two green-thumbed masterminds behind the initiative that has seen restaurants such as MoVida and Taxi Dining Room growing their own fresh produce to pick and serve straight to customers. Couturing chatted with Mat Pember about the success of their Pop Up Patch and why we too should start growing our own at home, regardless of experience or space restrictions.
ASHLEE: What is the inspiration behind the Federation Square Pop Up Patch?
MAT: As a business, we came across a demographic of people who were just starting to grow their own food and they knew very little about it and they were usually confined by space. It just seemed like the perfect opportunity for people to become educated and give them a chance to grow their own produce.
ASHLEE: What were you hoping to achieve when you first decided to launch the Pop Up Patch?
MAT: We get a real kick out of seeing people do what we love to do, so we wanted to see more of that. Plus the more people we see out there growing things in their gardens, the better the food culture is in Melbourne and it provides a great sense of community as well. A lot of the people here have never met each other in their own buildings and all of a sudden they’re meeting each other here and find out that they might only live two storeys away from each other.
ASHLEE: The Pop Up Patch is a 12-month initiative, what’s next when the time is up?
MAT: We could potentially be here longer. We’d love it if it was a permanent fixture, if not here, we will definitely continue the concept elsewhere.
ASHLEE: How long has The Little Veggie Patch Co. been involved in and around Melbourne?
MAT: We’ve been around since 2008, really organically at first, it was really just word of mouth. We’ve had our shop for the last 2 years in St. Kilda and there are other facets to our business like landscaping. We’re trying to work out which direction we want to head in because there’s so many different things going on for us and because we’re a new business there’s lots of room for opportunity.
ASHLEE: You also have two books! For those who don’t know, what can we find in them?
MAT: The first book is about how to grow food in small spaces and that’s really about starting up and the fundamentals of growing your own produce. It’s an A-Z of all the things that you might grow, the pests and it’s really activity based. The second book is more of a seasonal approach that guides you through month-by-month, what you can plant, what you can harvest, seasonal activities and it’s more recipe based as well. The first book is more for people who are starting up and the second book is for those who have already started up.
ASHLEE: What’s the key to growing a veggie patch with limited plant knowledge or space – for the city punter?
MAT: The willingness to try but also starting off with the right infrastructure, good quality potting mix, the right depth of pot, making sure that you water, the fundamentals are really important. If you’ve got the right resources then growing food is not very difficult, it’s just a matter of getting out there and giving it a go.
ASHLEE: What is the easiest thing to grow?
MAT: Any sort of lettuce is really easy to grow and most herbs are really easy too. Lettuces don’t need much sun, they don’t need real depth or heaps of nutrition so they’re really easy to grow. Plants that produce a fruit become more difficult to grow because they need more sun and are more susceptible to pests.
ASHLEE: What is your favourite vegetable, herb and flower?
MAT: My favourite vegetable is the tomato and my favourite herb is basil because it goes so well with the tomato. My favourite flower is the marigold, it’s a nice edible flower and it’s a great companion to the tomato. Basically anything that goes well with tomatoes, I’m very one eyed when it comes to them.
ASHLEE: Did you always have a green thumb?
MAT: No, actually not at all, I killed more things than I grew when I was young. I spent a lot of time in my Nonna’s garden and if anything I was a hindrance more than a help, but I did love it. Then it wasn’t until I lived in a share house with a couple of mates and we started growing herbs and that got me reconnected with the love that I had when I was young.
ASHLEE: What are the benefits of growing your own veggie patch as opposed to buying veggies from the supermarket?
MAT: There are the environmental reasons and sustainability issues. The fact that all of our food is coming from further and further away is exasperating the problem so I think that we should be doing a little for that and growing our own produce when we can. The taste is another factor and the fact that you have produce in your backyard that is so easy to pick and use straight away. It can be annoying to have to go to the supermarket just for something like a spring of herbs or a lettuce. Also if you love cooking, there’s nothing quite like going out into the garden and putting a whole meal together then and there, it’s about that journey when you’re cooking. If you don’t grow your own food then you’re really missing out on that aspect of the food journey. It’s also amazing how many people you’ll meet just by growing something in your front yard, it’s really good for that sense of community.
ASHLEE: Melbourne is home to some pretty small apartments and flats with little room for a garden. Is ‘growing your own’ in an apartment, sustainable?
MAT: Things like lettuces and herbs, which are generally used everyday are definitely sustainable. Given that all you need to grow those things is pots and they don’t need a lot of space, you can definitely get a tangible outcome.
ASHLEE: Do you see a growing trend in Melbournians ‘growing their own’ or buying local/organic produce?
MAT: I definitely think that there’s a trend already, I think that the restaurants that have plots here are trying to promote that. I can definitely see a trend, hopefully it’s not just a fad and people actually do it for many years to come. When we first started it was a real niche business and there wasn’t really great opportunity there. Now all of a sudden everyone is promoting the idea and it’s incredible how many opportunities there are related to the idea of growing your own food and produce.
The Pop Up Patch is located at the Car Park, Rooftop – Federation Square – http://www.popuppatch.com/
The Little Veggie Patch Co. store is located at 2A Brighton Road East St. Kilda – http://littleveggiepatchco.com.au/
Images by Jasmine Blom.