September 11th, 2019.
Little Veggie Patch Co (LVPC) was established through a healthy combination of passion, skill, entrepreneurial nous, and the experience and wisdom gained from Australians’ good old fashioned sense of intrepid travel. We sat down with co-founder of LVPC, Mat Pember, to find out why the slow food movement and urban gardening has such staggering appeal in Melbourne.
Open Journal: What happened pre-2008 to set the wheels in motion on LVPC? Why was it established?
Mat Pember: After completing a fairly soul destroying Commerce degree, I had fallen into a casual landscaping job in between an extended stint living in Spain. By the time I had decided to settle back in Australia the slow food movement was picking up momentum, and no doubt I had been effected by the slow everything movement of Spanish life. I happened to be living and working with a French fellow, Sylvain, who worked on an organic vegetable farm outside of Paris. We began to wonder why so few people choose edibles over ornamentals in all the jobs we were working on. At that point I saw a niche opportunity combining my landscaping skills with my passion for food – I grew up in an Italian/Australian family where food was the centre of everything – and so LVPC began; basically as a landscaping business that specialised in edible garden design + construction.
LVPC has been conceived to “combine the ideas of permaculture with constraints on space and time.” Can you please explain how your marvellous crates and business ethos do this?
MP: We are passionate about both permaculture and practicality, and so for us we work within the ideas of permaculture but have to be realistic about what people have the space, time and inclination for. The veggie crate was really something we stumbled on that turned out to be a great fit from the beginning, both for the people that typically have little space, time and often skill, as well as in the context of permaculture as we recycle and reuse something that would otherwise be wasted. We ultimately want to show that anyone can grow food, regardless of space or skill set, and this is no more evident in the simplicity of turning an old wooden box into a veggie patch.
OJ: If I had nothing more than a balcony for outdoor space, what is the best way to establish and nurture one of your crates to get the most from my tiny edible garden?
MP: Choosing a suitable space that get sufficient light, either direct or reflective, and that is easily accessible so it gets attention, but then ensuring you keep your soil alive by regularly watering, feeding, mulching and making smart plant choices. Soil is no doubt the most important piece of infrastructure in the veggie patch, and we only use premium and organic soil to get this right from the beginning, but of course regular care and love is required to maintain it. Don’t feel like it’s an overwhelming amount, it’s all in small dosages really. If you image your soil as your partner, you know it’s not going to bode well if you ignore them for months at a time and then expect an inundation of gifts and compliments to make up for it….same goes for your soil.
Photography by Doug Gimsey.
OJ: LVPC has been collaborating with developing the rooftop space at Jewell Station, Brunswick. Can you explain your involvement and what will be on the rooftop for the benefit of residents?
MP: We’ve been fans of Neometro’s work for a while and, being an aspiring apartment owner myself, I believe that community spaces – such as the rooftop – are an important conduit for residents and a fundamental part of good living. We’ve been consulting on the rooftop space at Jewell Station in Brunswick and how it will get best use and functionality. We’ve had experience operating a rooftop garden at Fed Square for a number of years and understand that you need to skill the balance between ownership and assistance. This is exactly what our role at the rooftop space at Jewell Station will be, hosting an initial workshop to help residents become familiar with the space and gain important skills, followed by subsequent visits to encourage a handover in the lead.
Rooftop at Jewell Station by NEOMETRO.
OJ: Would you say that all future urban apartment development should consider the addition of an edible garden space for residents? What are the benefits (perhaps social as well as the educational aspect of simply learning to grow your own food)?
MP: I don’t think people choose to live in apartments these days purely because of economics. I’m motivated by apartment living for two reasons – efficiency and community – and in fact both of those things are actually quite intertwined. One of the great things about living in cities, and apartments, is the proximity of community. You have neighbours all around you… but you still need conduits (such as gardens) in order to meet and socialise. It would be impossible if we were all locked up in square boxes! So, yes I think rooftop spaces like this should become a standard for apartment living.
Interview compiled by Creative Concierge.
Many thanks to Mat from LVPC for taking the time to chat about the wonders of small space, edible gardening.
Find Out More About LVPC.