Thanks to its abundant farm life, cool climate (great for wine-making!) and entrepreneurial community, Orange – in central NSW – is quickly becoming one of Australia’s most exciting gastronomic hot spots.
Local cafe and store The Agrestic Grocer embodies this movement, passionately connecting the region’s producers with eaters and drinkers.
Meet Lucas Martin, one of its co-owners…
What inspired you to start The Agrestic Grocer?
In 2012 we (Beau and Katie Baddock of The Farm Gate and Danielle and Lucas Martin of Barefoot Wholefoods) teamed up to provide weekly fresh produce boxes with local seasonal fruit and vegetables. The produce was sourced from The Farm Gate farm, along with a host of other great producers, and distributed through Barefoot Wholefoods. The success had us quickly thinking about how to grow the idea into something much bigger. The perfect venue became available and plans were made to set up a local produce providore and restaurant. We launched in August 2014.
What were your initial intentions, and did these evolve over time?
The overriding idea behind The Agrestic Grocer was to create a conduit between the region’s growers and producers and the local community. Communicating the origin of products along with the story of the producers behind them was a priority. This concept resulted in a uniquely Orange food experience. The location also allowed us to become the cellar door for Badlands Brewery and The Second Mouse Cheese Company, whose products are produced on site. This gave us more of a tourism focus – although we were aware that food tourism would be a significant part of the business, we didn’t foresee what a huge role it would come to play. Orange’s festivals such as F.O.O.D week and The Orange Wine Festival have become a major focus for our business, with The Agrestic Grocer hosting F.O.O.D Week’s F.O.O.D HQ in 2016 for the third year in a row. This helps us connect with a much wider audience. These festivals also provide us with the opportunity to run events like The Moveable Feast, which take customers straight to the source of production at various farms and vineyards.
How would you describe the venue’s atmosphere?
The atmosphere is very much defined by the history of the building and the materials used in the fit- out. The site was originally one of Orange’s major orchards. Our store is in one of the remaining packing sheds, while the cafe is in what we understand to be one of the region’s oldest cool rooms. This history provides the perfect backdrop to our business and we have tried to keep the original aesthetic as intact as possible. Small hatches in the café walls originally used to transfer produce in and out of the coolroom without the loss of cooling are still visible. The vast majority of the materials used were either re-purposed from the site or collected from surrounding farms. This sits perfectly in line with the sustainability ethic behind much of our endeavours. The word agrestic means rural and rustic – a description that perfectly suits the atmosphere.
What is your core philosophy?
The prioritisation of locally sourced goods and the emphasis on the community they come from. Our aim to be inclusive and accessible, open to new ideas and the creativity and ingenuity of the community we serve.
How have you overcome issues like food storage or wastage?
We were lucky to inherit fantastic infrastructure such as large coolrooms and freezers. The recent addition of a 325-panel solar system helps keep things green and affordable. Our fresh produce retail space is actually one of the original secondary cool rooms, which keeps things fresh. We also have several programs to minimise waste. Firstly, close management of produce coming in from the farms allows us to select suitable items to pickle, jam and preserve. This gives the kitchen a chance to flex some creative muscle whilst preventing the loss of quality produce. These products are then used across the menu and sold in the store. The small amount of produce that goes beyond usability is either composted for use in our growing market garden or passed on to a local free-range pork producer.
What’s been the response from the community?
With over 10 years in business in the local community prior to The Agrestic Grocer, we brought with us a great deal of good will. For people who are passionate about local, fresh, quality food, The Agrestic Grocer has enabled them to shop locally and develop relationships with the people who grow their food. We now have many growers regularly contributing to our shelves. We even have a steady flow of backyard growers topping up our supplies and contributing to the community feel. We have also been well supported by industry bodies such as Brand Orange and Visit Orange.
How do you give back?
The Agrestic Grocer supports local charities, organisations and schools throughout the year. Our ‘Eating Local – Helping Locals’ program for Foodcare Orange helped raise much-needed funds to help stock the Foodcare pantry and in turn help underprivileged families. Many local schools have started to supply us with produce from their kitchen garden programs, this produce is swapped for grocery items needed for their broader food education and welfare programs. Our end of year music event ‘Ruby Tuesday Mixed Tape’ encouraged locals to support Beyond Blue and resulted in around $8000 in donations.
What is your vision for the future?
The Agrestic Grocer’s vision will always be guided by our initial values. On the supply side, we seek to expand our ability to bring local producer’s goods to market. We’re integrating supply and production into the main image of the brand through onsite market gardening, bee keeping and mushroom production as a reminder that The Agrestic Grocer has a substantial role to play in the local food movement. Existing farming endeavours will be expanded and made accessible to the public. Inspiring the demand for locally-produced goods and the development of new and exciting products and services will contribute to the continual growth of food localism and culture. With the freedoms afforded by maturing out of the establishment phase, the upcoming year is the perfect time to commence these new projects, look for new opportunities and further define our brand. Our emphasis on and involvement in representing our region to new visitors both locally and as part of out of region tourism events will be continually expanded and developed.
ORANGE F.O.O.D WEEK, 8-17 APRIL 2016
Australia’s longest running regional food festival, the Orange F.O.O.D Week festival, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. F.O.O.D HQ will run daily throughout the festival in the grounds of The Agrestic Grocer. Featuring talks from food and wine producers, cooking demonstrations and meet-and-greets with local chefs, the event will also allow visitors will be able to taste and buy locally-made products.
Agrestic Grocer, 426 Mitchell Highway, Orange, NSW.