CEL­E­BRAT­ING LO­CAL PRO­DUCE IN BENDIGO

Lau­ren Bruce and Ge­or­gia Haynes

GRAM - - Con­tents - WORDS LAU­REN BRUCE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY GE­OR­GIA HAYNES

Food cul­ture per­vades our lives in Vic­to­ria – brunch is in­sta­grammed en masse, chefs are el­e­vated to rock­star sta­tus and hype around restau­rants can mean lines ex­tend­ing around the cor­ner and hour-long waits, be­cause you sim­ply MUST try that new bao joint ev­ery­one is talk­ing about. Hap­pily, along­side this grow­ing pas­sion for food, ex­ists a grow­ing con­scious­ness about where our food comes from. While ex­otic in­ter­na­tional foods are cel­e­brated, con­sumers are also sup­port­ing fresh, lo­cal grow­ers and pro­duc­ers – do­ing more re­search into their food, at­tend­ing mar­kets and es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tion­ships with their pro­duc­ers. This ethos is par­tic­u­larly prom­i­nent in the Vic­to­rian city of Bendigo, just 150km north of Mel­bourne. A small com­mu­nity with a lot of his­tory, Bendigo is pas­sion­ate about its food and about sup­port­ing lo­cal. Bendigo and its sur­round­ing ar­eas in Cen­tral Vic­to­ria – Tooroobac, Har­court, Boort, Heath­cote to name a few – have been hon­ing their skills in the realm of food. Lo­cal farm­ers and pro­duc­ers are de­vel­op­ing new ways of farm­ing that com­bine tra­di­tional meth­ods with sus­tain­able prac­tice and new tech­nol­ogy, and restau­ra­teurs and other food or­gan­i­sa­tions are com­ing up with new and in­no­va­tive ways to show off the best the re­gion has to of­fer.

Bendigo and broader Cen­tral Vic­to­ria is a tight knit com­mu­nity, with strong re­la­tion­ships and bonds across their food in­dus­try. Bendigo food busi­nesses look out for each other; from the lo­cal restau­rants us­ing lo­cal pro­duc­ers, to the lo­cal pro­duc­ers know­ing ex­actly how to cater to and pro­mote lo­cal food busi­nesses. They all have a com­mon goal in mind – to pro­duce fresh, high qual­ity food, sup­port the lo­cal food in­dus­try, and in turn, bol­ster the Bendigo com­mu­nity.

There are many pro­duc­ers and restau­rants within the Bendigo com­mu­nity – Ma­sons of Bendigo, McIvor Farms, B&B Basil, Sim­ply Green Toma­toes, Holy Goat Cheese and many more – that share this phi­los­o­phy.

Owner of Ma­sons, So­nia An­thony, to­gether with hus­band and head chef Nick, is very in­volved in the Bendigo lo­cal pro­duce scene. Pres­i­dent of the Food Fos­sick­ers Net­work, and pro­mot­ing lo­cal pro­duce through the of­fer­ings at her well­re­puted restau­rant, So­nia is pas­sion­ate about sup­port­ing lo­cal pro­duc­ers and what it means for the lo­cal econ­omy.

“I guess the whole big­ger pic­ture is about cre­at­ing a lo­calised, sus­tain­able econ­omy; keep­ing dol­lars within the com­mu­nity,” An­thony says. “When you’re pro­mot­ing and sup­port­ing lo­cal, you’re ac­tu­ally sup­port­ing the greater com­mu­nity - not just the in­di­vid­ual pro­ducer.

Peo­ple are sup­port­ing and pur­chas­ing off each other in a way that can ex­tend re­ally far out into the com­mu­nity; it’s not just the restau­rant buy­ing from that pro­ducer. That pro­ducer needs to buy feed for their an­i­mals, they need to go to the lo­cal vet so they’re spend­ing money lo­cally there… all those things that go into sus­tain­ing a farm.

An­thony says hos­pi­tal­ity is a great plat­form for mar­ket­ing and ed­u­cat­ing the lo­cal and broader com­mu­nity about small pro­duc­ers. “There’s some great stuff be­ing pro­duced right on our doorstep,” An­thony says. “At Ma­sons, there are some 70 pro­duc­ers that we pur­chase off. And peo­ple come in and try the food and the wine, and get in­ter­ested in where it’s com­ing from, and want to pur­chase off those pro­duc­ers as well, cre­at­ing a great lo­calised food sys­tem that ben­e­fits our lo­cal pro­duc­ers, which is re­ally cool.” A lo­cal suc­cess story in pro­duce, B&B Basil, is tes­ta­ment to en­gag­ing with lo­cal pro­duce. A fam­ily-run op­er­a­tion in the heart of Bendigo, B&B Basil grows a va­ri­ety of herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers with a strong fo­cus on dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of basil. The busi­ness sup­plies restau­rants in­ter­na­tion­ally as well as na­tion­ally and of course, lo­cally across over 50 re­gional restau­rants, cafes and fruit and veg shops.

“Buy­ing fresh pro­duce is very im­por­tant to our com­mu­nity’s health and well­be­ing,” Susie Young, co-owner of B&B Basil says. As a pro­ducer, hav­ing lo­cal sup­port means we get di­rect feedback when own­ers of busi­nesses we sup­ply, or chefs visit the farm. We get lo­cal chefs re­quest­ing dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties [of basil] and dif­fer­ent prod­ucts to try.”

Like An­thony, Young is pas­sion­ate about sup­port­ing lo­cal, and the di­rect con­nec­tion it gives you to the food and to your lo­cal food in­dus­try. “Per­son­ally, I like to know where my food comes from; and it feels like a lot of our com­mu­nity feels the same, and it shows in [the at­ten­dance at] the mar­kets,” Young says. “Bendigo is a thriv­ing com­mu­nity and small busi­ness growth helps lo­cal jobs. When you [con­tact] a small lo­cal busi­ness, you’ll most likely be talk­ing di­rectly to the owner.”

Bendigo Whole­foods is a prime ex­am­ple of a small busi­ness with a strong and vi­tal con­nec­tion to the re­gion. A for­mer chef, owner of Bendigo Whole­foods and also founder of Food Fos­sick­ers, Dar­ren Mur­phy is very aware of sup­port­ing lo­cal and how it en­riches the Bendigo com­mu­nity.

“I have lived and worked around this stuff for most of my life,” Mur­phy says. “I was bought up in a small town, Beech­worth, where many of the lo­cals had some kind of job or con­nec­tion to food at a grass roots level.” “[Sup­port­ing lo­cal pro­duce] was just nat­u­rally val­ued as be­ing part of the com­mu­nity and it cre­ated jobs,” Mur­phy says.

De­spite the huge fo­cus on it to­day, it has taken some years for the Bendigo com­mu­nity to re­store its pride in the lo­cal food in­dus­try. “I moved to Bendigo over 18 years ago and af­ter hav­ing a restau­rant fo­cused on lo­cal pro­duce, there was not much in the way of for­mal Pro­ducer and Prod­uct food DNA in the com­mu­nity at that time,” Mur­phy says. “I started a lo­cal pro­ducer list with a lo­cal chef to do the Long­est Lunches and some re­gional din­ners. We ran this small list for many years un­til I got the Food Fos­sick­ers brand off the ground.

“With Food Fos­sick­ers the idea was to shape re­gional iden­tity around food, build­ing a strong sense of place that was uniquely and dis­tinc­tively ours to share with the world. To have our lo­cal prod­uct on lo­cal plates and ta­bles. It was about us be­ing proud to show­case our own of­fer­ings; to use this pro­duce in our ev­ery­day life.” An­thony says that the rein­vig­o­ra­tion of the food in­dus­try in the Bendigo re­gion has been a grad­ual process. “I think [the in­ter­est in lo­cal pro­duce] was al­ways there,” An­thony says. “When [we first be­gan with Ma­sons] there were a few places try­ing to source lo­cally like we were, but we just found there was a real in­con­sis­tency in terms of try­ing to get the qual­ity of the prod­uct in the quan­tity that we needed; the pro­duc­ers were just that lit­tle bit too small. A lot of farm­ers had left the Bendigo re­gion, and then the next gen­er­a­tion had gone away and worked at other places. “But they hap­pen to be re­turn­ing now. So it’s kind of a whole range of things that have hap­pened over a pe­riod of time. Food is re­ally be­com­ing a se­ri­ous part of the cul­ture in Bendigo. We’re see­ing a lot of peo­ple mov­ing here from Mel­bourne, or com­ing from in­ter­state want­ing that foodie ex­pe­ri­ence, and they’re invit­ing their friends and fam­ily to come as well, so it’s re­ally all just hap­pen­ing at the same time which is fan­tas­tic.” An­thony says the rea­son Bendigo has such a strong food fo­cus is the abun­dance and the op­por­tu­nity for lo­cal prod­uct to be es­tab­lished in the re­gion, and the pas­sion of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. “There’s just so much lo­cal prod­uct out there,” An­thony says. “So much pro­duce, wine, beer, cider, you name it. Peo­ple are cre­at­ing qual­ity,

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