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Native ingredients fuel new sustainable café

The Forager

A permaculturalist is hoping to liven up a community centre in Adelaide’s West End with an environmentally sustainable café serving nourishing food with a distinct Australian flavour.

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“You can’t get more local than the food that’s native to your own country,” says permaculturalist and new café owner Melissa Rayner, who this week opened The Foodprint Experience at Conservation SA’s sustainability hub The Joinery on Franklin Street.

“I think it’s a really great way to help bridge that gap between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.”

Native Australian ingredients including lemon myrtle, peppermint gum, wattleseed and muntries (small native apples) have been eaten for tens of thousands of years, but it has only been in the past decade or so that prominent chefs including Jock Zonfrillo, of Adelaide’s Orana and Bistro Blackwood,  have introduced the ingredients to the mainstream restaurant scene.

Rayner, who uses several native ingredients in The Foodprint Experience menu, says sourcing local ingredients is a strong principle of permaculture, which is based around a philosophy of producing sustainable and ethically-sourced food.

The former travel agent was inspired to join the permaculture movement after volunteering in South Africa and South America. From there, she enrolled in a permaculture course at university, where she developed The Foodprint Experience business model.

“It was originally intended to be a food truck but a little bit of serendipity and circumstance landed me this space,” Rayner says.

“I started pop-up market stalls and they seemed to go alright. I was renting a kitchen in a café – Five Little Figs in Payneham – and Conservation SA reached out to Michelle [the owner] and asked if she was interested in this space.

“She said she wasn’t but she knew someone who would be – me. I guess it was just one of those connections.”

The Food Experience has a focus on social enterprise as well as sustainability. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

The request was simple – open a café in the community hub to attract more people to the centre.

“There are lots of events that happen here that are sustainability-based and grassroots-based so they thought it would be good to attract more people to this place just to get more community involvement happening,” Rayner says.

“There are a lot of organisations that work upstairs – they want coffee, [and] food and even some of the businesses around the area would like a good café, too.”

The Foodprint Experience is a blend of Rayner’s two passions – her love of food and her interest in sustainability – with a small menu of “mostly familiar meals” featuring ingredients from local farms and Indigenous food businesses.

“What I’m trying to do is produce meals that people are familiar with but then integrate some of those native ingredients so that it’s not too scary.

“Jock Zonfrillo does some amazing things but it’s in that fine-dining, high-end category and it’s not always affordable for everyone.

“I’m trying to produce something that’s a little bit more affordable for the average consumer so they learn a little bit about native foods and try it at home.”

Roasted vegetable and chickpea salad. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Menu items include an earth bowl with pickled and fresh native seasonal produce, a vegan smashed avocado breakfast, pulled pork rolls, bush bircher muesli with Australian fruits and wattleseed banana bread.

“We’re also doing a head-to-tail experience with a pig from Atherton Farms. I’m receiving the head, the trotters, everything, and then we’ll work out how to use all those products with specials.”

The organic and fair-trade coffee is sourced from Australian Coffee Distributors and the café’s native ingredients are sourced from Red Centre Enterprises and Something Wild in the Adelaide Central Market.

The café also sells ready-to-buy native herbs and spices so customers can try the recipes at home.

Design-wise, Rayner describes the space as a “mish-mash” of second-hand furniture, indoor plants and recycled materials.

“I’ve tried to go really simple with the décor with black and white and then filled it with lots of plants.

“I inherited a lot of furniture and equipment to be as resourceful as possible. Things like the cushions – the other day I just put out a request on Facebook asking if there was anyone that had some cushions that they didn’t want so that we didn’t have to buy them brand new.”

Second-hand furniture and indoor plants add to the café’s atmosphere. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

In keeping with Rayner’s permaculture values, The Foodprint Experience also has a focus on social enterprise.

Rayner has partnered with OzHarvest and housing organisation Common Ground to provide work experience training for disadvantaged young people.

“I’ll have people coming through doing their placements on a regular basis. It’s really inspiring to watch these young people come in – most of them being quite shy or nervous – and then you see them blossom over 12 shifts.

“It’s been really rewarding for me and I know one of the girls so far has definitely obtained employment after.

“Of course, if a position comes up here we’d love to employ more people as the business grows.”

For now, however, Rayner says The Foodprint Experience is looking to focus on community development.

“There’s three ethics of permaculture – earth care, people care, fair share.

“I don’t want this to just be another business that runs only for its profits; I want it to give back to the community and have some positive impacts with how we connect people with the local environment.”

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