Q&A with The Farmer’s Place, winner of the 2016 ‘Banksia Small to Medium Business Sustainability Leadership Award’

We asked James McLennan, Education Project Manager of The Farmer's Place to talk about some of the initiatives they are undertaking as a business to drive sustainable practices into the future.


Overview

The Farmer’s Place is a small working farm, café and farmers’ market in Freshwater Creek; located 20 minutes from Geelong at the gateway to the Great Ocean Road.  On the property of 40 acres, visitors can see farm animals, raised vegetable gardens and orchards planted with a variety of fruit trees.  The café is housed in a unique building made from recycled shipping containers, the fit out is fashioned from recycled materials and sustainable waste, water and energy practices are in place.  The Farmer’s Place also offers an education program based around sustainability for schools and community groups.

It was founded by Robert Pascoe; owner of environmental company Closed Loop, local farmer, entrepreneur and passionate environmentalist.  The Farmer’s Place is the realisation of Robert’s dream to create a unique paddock to plate to paddock operation showcasing sustainability, engaging and informing visitors and setting new standards of operation for the hospitality industry.

The Farmer’s Place was the winner of the 2016 Banksia Small to Medium Business Sustainability Leadership Award.

Can you describe some of the initiatives that are driving best practice within the business?

The Farmer’s Place strives to be a business where sustainable best practice is the norm.   The initiatives that drive this on a daily basis at The Farmer’s Place are based on resource conservation and our belief that waste is a valuable resource.  They are also demonstrated through our commitment to ‘food for the future’ and through our support for local producers and the community.

Examples of initiatives include:

  • An 11KW solar panel system fitted to the roof to generate our own energy.
  • Two 25,000lt tanks to capture rain water. These tanks provide water for the washing machine, hand washing and the flushing of toilets.
  • Grey and black water is passed through a primary and secondary treatment stage, is aerated and then distributed through an underground irrigation system to water the orchards and grounds.
  • Site revegetation efforts have involved planting 1500 native trees to create a wildlife corridor to attract indigenous species of birds and other fauna.
  • Waste is separated into food waste, comingled recyclables, cardboard and general waste.
  • Polystyrene is discouraged but if received, is collected for GDP Industries; a local disability enterprise which shreds and bags polystyrene for local remanufacture into products such as lightweight concrete pavers.
  • All food waste is used onsite, either being fed to the animals or into the composting unit (which sits proudly on the deck of the cafe rather than hidden out the back in a waste compound).  The resulting compost is used within the vegetable gardens and on the grounds to nourish the soil.
  • The actual building process also embraced the concept of waste as a resource; the cafe is built from recycled shipping containers, reclaimed timbers and second hand doors and windows. The floorboards were sourced from the old Dimmey’s store demolition and fittings are fashioned from recycled materials such as craypots, jars and colanders. The raised garden beds and roofing are made from corrugated iron sourced from old bullnose verandahs and a primary school demolition.  Fencing has been created from rope once used in the nearby mussel beds of Portarlington.
  • We are conscious of the whole food cycle and mindful of how we produce, package, transport, use and dispose of our food. We call this our commitment to ‘food for the future’ and this philosophy drives our kitchen to design menus featuring seasonal food which is grown on site or sourced locally (minimising packaging and transport) and to ensure that no food waste is sent to landfill but is instead composted and used onsite in the gardens to help grow more produce.
  • As part of our ‘food for the future’ commitment, we are passionate supporters of local producers. We use their produce in our kitchen and also promote through our inhouse market operations.  We have also initiated a monthly Farmers’ Market, held within our grounds on the last Sunday of every month.  We estimate that almost 150 different suppliers from the region are represented in the cafe and the marketplace operations.

What are your processes and what have you achieved so far?

An example of process and measured achievement at The Farmer’s Place is our food waste composting.  Food scraps are separated from other waste in the kitchen.  Scraps that are not fed to the animals are placed in the onsite composting unit which uses naturally occurring microbes, heat, oxygen and agitation to reduce food waste by up to 90% in 24 hours.  The environmental impact of the onsite composting unit, compared to the alternative of sending to landfill, has been measured using an independent Environmental Benefits Calculator developed and verified by a leading Australian sustainability company, Equilibrium.  This shows that the composting unit delivers:

  • Waste volume reduction rate of 80%
  • Total net emissions tonnes CO2 –e (yearly) of -23.93
  • Avoided landfill emissions tonnes CO2 –e (yearly) of -50.06
  • Avoided transportation emissions tonnes CO2 –e (yearly) of 0.80
  • Overall environmental improvement in reduction of emissions of 47%

In regards to business reporting processes we do not only use profitability to measure achievement and success, but also have key performance indicators built around environment, stakeholder engagement and social impact.

Can you explain how you are minimising waste and maximising resources recovery for a sustainable future?

Minimising waste and maximising resources recovery for a sustainable future is at the heart of all of our operations.  As outlined previously, this has been a part of our mode of operations from the initial build through to our daily activities.  It is evidenced through our waste stream separation, recycling of all commingled materials, onsite composting and diversion of general waste from landfill wherever possible through initiatives such as the polystyrene partnership with GDP Industries.

In conjunction with our education program, we also oversee the contract of the ResourceSmart School program for the Barwon South West region.  In doing so, we are working directly with over 60 schools within the region to make them sustainable schools.  A large part of this program is improving waste management with in schools, not only from a business point of view, but also promoting good waste management within the curriculum.

What does the future hold for you?

The Farmer’s Place is keen to continue being a local sustainability hub; to demonstrate sustainable business, food and farming practices, promote local food production and enable people to reconnect with their food and where it comes from.

We are keen to further develop our education program and extend the reach of our sustainability message.  We hope to provide engaging education opportunities for more students to instil a greater understanding of sustainability and have a positive impact on our community and our future.

The Farmer’s Place is also interested in the concept of share farming to increase the yield of the many smaller farms in the area.  This is something we are keen to investigate and encourage as a part of our commitment to ‘food for the future’ and to ensure greater food security for future generations.

 


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