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An edited version of this article appeared in Green Magazine #38

Grown and Gathered is nourishing fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs – and community – with a novel approach to growing for supply

There’s an acre of well-drained land sitting plum in the middle of the stately Tahbilk Vineyard, some 200 kilometres northeast of Melbourne, that is producing more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, cut and edible flowers. Soon it will start to yield grains like corn, rye and oats too – and all without bringing any new inputs onto their farm.

This is what’s called a closed loop farming system, and it’s the all of Matt and Lentil Purbrick, and a border collie named Pepper. The couple have spent the past few years forging a multifaceted living from the things they hold dear: growing and gathering, being sustainable and building community.

Their business, Grown and Gathered, supplies produce to restaurants and cafes like Pope Joan in East Brunswick, Filter in the Melbourne CBD, and Tahbilk. They’ve recently starting supplying households, too.

When they started out, the pair bought in green waste from the nearest town, and chicken manure from a nearby poultry farm. But then, they realised they could use the waste from the businesses and households that they supply.

Now, Matt estimates that they take 300kg of fresh produce to Melbourne each week, and return with the dehydrated equivalent approximately 1.4 tonnes of waste to compost back into the garden, meaning that they’re effectively putting in more than they take out.

“Closed loop farming isn’t a new idea; in fact it’s a very traditional method of maintaining and building fertility. In its essence, sustainability is that thing you can continue forever, and it just makes sense to us,” says Matt.

“It's not just about growing great food and flowers. We want to know where our yield goes, how it’s consumed, and what happens to the leftovers,” adds Lentil, going on to explain that they like to work closely with the restaurants and cafes they supply.

“We’re effectively their farm, and we want to support them to be as seasonal and sustainable as possible,” says Matt.

Every Saturday the pair deliver produce to the cafes and restaurants they supply, then park up at Fitzroy’s iconic Edinburgh Gardens and wait for their household customers to come calling for the week’s haul of seasonal produce: some grown, some gathered, and some that customers might not have encountered before, like heirloom vegetables and edible “weeds.”

“While we were foraging for mushrooms we started to look at and learn about what was around us, and it really opened our eyes,” says Matt.

“Many plants considered weeds, like stinging nettle, milk thistle, and dandelion are perfectly edible. And tasty too!”

The pair enjoy getting to know their household customers in relaxed chats around the van, too.

Everything about Grown and Gathered is done with passion, and the couple are cultivating a particular passion for flowers. In their latest venture, The Flower Exchange, Matt and Lentil have removed money from the equation entirely. They’re inviting people to exchange something (anything!) for a bunch of flowers; colourful, vibrant posies that are easy on the nose and sometimes edible, too.

“When we started growing flowers it was never about money. They’re so beautiful and evocative; we tried to give them away but it made people really uncomfortable! So we decided to try exchanging them instead,” explains Lentil.

And people have leapt at the chance, offering up baked goods and preserves, handmade soaps, artworks and pottery in exchange for flowers.

They pair even exchanged foliage for the floral arranging at their own wedding!

”We often receive what people are good at or love to do, and we love that. We want to encourage people to discover their abundance, and be abundant with it. We’ll never sell a flower again,” smiles Matt.