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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Organic farming grown in heart of Hunter

Novocastrian latte lovers are playing a vital role in sustainable agriculture.

Unbeknown to many drinkers, their morning caffeine ritual has helped convert one million litres of food waste into compost, growing a cleaner way of eating, right on their doorstep.

Since the first seeds were sown in Maitland in 2013, Feedback Organic Recovery has grown into a thriving business, all from its plot in Cardiff Heights.

For farm manager Matt Rozzoli the labour of love has become a circle of goodness that is close to his heart.

After completing his studies in conservation and land management, the 26-year-old developed a passion for sustainability and the environment, landing him his dream role within David Sivyer’s small business.

“I’ve always been interested in gardening,” Matt said.

“Straight out of school I started an electrical engineering degree that I didn’t like. I took a few years off trying to work out what I wanted to do and ended up doing a degree that transitioned into sustainable agriculture.”

Feedback Organic Recovery is a community solution supported by cafes and restaurants across the Hunter with the aim of reducing organic waste going to landfill. 

The group of volunteers grow sustainable food on Sivyer’s urban farm in Newcastle, encouraging the community to get their hands dirty too.  

“Plots like this offer very hands-on work,” Matt said.

“Anyone can do it, it’s empowering and it leaves you feeling very satisfied as well.”

With a mathematical mind, Matt digs his hands in the dirt with great precision and forethought. 

“I love organic farming. It’s design and systems oriented, includes strategies and planning, there’s experimentation involved and it keeps the mind active. 

“I love companion planting, that is productive crops growing side-by-side, which benefits both of them.

“There are also other beneficial species that aren’t necessarily productive but build up the farm ecosystem, and they’re all part of an integrated pest control system.”

Several Newcastle cafes and restaurants have since come onboard, sending their food waste to the Cardiff Heights site on a regular basis.

“Coffee grinds are my favourite compost ingredient,” Matt said.

“They help with the smell, and since they’ve already been ground fine, they’ll always be done in one pass-through of the sieve.”

The collected food waste is dropped into compost plots, layered with wood chips, and ultimately used to feed the vegetables and herbs grown at the site.

The work is done by hand.

“Even the compost plots are made from upcycled pallet wood,” Matt said.

“And the wood chips are supplied free from local arborists.”

“It is a cycle that benefits all involved.”

The bins, Matt says, are left with customers and each week are replaced and cleaned.

“Part of the strategy is to close the loop in food waste and food production,” he said.

“The aim is to localise the production so people are eating food that doesn’t have to have ingredients added to protect it during transportation, or refrigeration.

“Nutrients degrade when plants are refrigerated, fresh is best.

“There really is a whole science involved.”

The food produced by the group includes fresh herbs, vegetables, fruit and eggs and it is all available for delivery.

Through a regular session entitled ‘One-hour farmer’ they also hope to teach community members how to improve the quality of the food they consume.

“We teach anyone keen to get involved how to do it themselves and we provide it back to the community through the cafes we collect from,” Matt said.

“Feedback wants to increase consumer awareness about the importance of managing food waste now and into the future.”

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