We love gathering with people to talk about big ideas. And we were very lucky to be invited to not only attend, but also present at the first North East Fair Food Unconference in Stanley on February 24, 2017. We spoke about Cultureshed - a concept that we're glad to have stumbled upon, because it really sums up what we believe Saint Monday is all about!
Like most first-time business owners, we have questions that keep us awake at night. Sometimes it’s about how to fill in that elusive roster, or whether you did in fact close the door to the freezer properly before you left the cafe. Mostly, for us, though, the big question that we keep coming back to is, can our cafe be sustainable? Can it be ethical?
“Why should it matter?”, some people would say. “It’s just a cafe. It’s just eggs on toast and coffee.” That’s not the way we see it. Coming from community development and international development backgrounds, we spend a lot of time thinking about community, and about how what we do affects other people - people that we see every day, and people that we don’t and never will see. We think about our impact, about how much living our lives the way we do prevents other people from living even halfway decent lives. We think about how we might best take responsibility for what it is that we’re doing in our business. This means we end up asking ourselves other hard questions - can we reduce our impact a little bit more? Can we do something in a way that means we can take greater responsibility for our impact?
As George Monbiot once wrote, “we’d rather be hypocrits than cynics”. Maybe we can’t do these things. But we’re going to give it a red hot go.
Giving it a go manifests itself in a lot of different ways at our cafe. The one most relevant to today’s unconference involves our menu. In this sense, it means that our menu takes shape based on the ‘constraint’s or ‘opportunities’ provided by local agriculture. We source the bulk of our fresh produce from two local growers - biodynamic growers Greenwood and Grogan Produce and Yack Organics - and a growing list of community members who barter their garden surplus with us. This means, first that we know the people growing the produce, and the supply chain is shorter - our solicitor grows our pumpkins. There’s transparency and trust in our relationship. We know what they do, and they can see what we do and hold us to account. It also means that we’re very conscious of the seasons, and our menu is heavily reflective of the seasons. In short, when it’s zucchini season, expect a free zucchini fritter with every coffee.
Undoubtedly, we’re all about local produce. We like the challenge it presents, we like the opportunities for relationship building that come out of procuring our ingredients in this way, and we’re very conscious of the fact that it goes such a long way towards helping us to live and do business in a way that aligns with our personal values.
But it’s much more than that too.
In running our business the way that we do, we feel that we’re helping to create something. It’s a story - customers who have watched Matt and Tamsin arrive every Wednesday morning with crates bulging with his vegies are always bowled over by the authenticity of the interaction. It’s a community - there have been beautiful relationships forged over plates of Gena’s stunning little beetroot, smoked for us in 45 degree heat by our other friend, Matt, at the local pub. And there are connections - chef with grower, grower with eater, via us as connectors.
Up until just a few months ago, we didn’t really know how to most succinctly describe what we feel like we’re helping to create. But we recently discovered a word that we think we’re going to get tattooed on our forearms! That word is “CULTURESHED”. Like “watershed” - a geographical basin that collects water from its immediate surrounds. In this sense, CULTURESHED means “a region nourished by what is cultivated locally” - that is, agricultural produce, as well as cultural products - art, creativity, community.
We find ourselves at the exciting intersection of agriculture and culture. From an agricultural perspective, we’re “serving up the landscape” on our plates. Culturally speaking, we’re crafting a narrative about what it means to live in our area. We’re also modeling a new set of values around food for our community - that is, culture creation. For us, Saint Monday is a place where Yackandandah, as a Cultureshed, is being created. What we’re serving up on the plate isn’t just the sum of its ingredients. It’s something unique, a product of its time, place and people. Likewise, the setting, atmosphere and spirit in which our meals are served and consumed are products of their time, place and people.
Importantly, Cultureshed isn’t a fixed point. It’s not a KPI that you tick off or an endpoint. It’s something that constantly shifts and changes shape, and what it looks like depends upon the time and the people in a place. Yackandandah, as Cultureshed, (and Saint Monday as manifestation of that Cultureshed) is entirely different from Stanley or Beechworth as cultureshed.
Having the concept of Cultureshed as a touchstone makes it easier for us to think about answers to those questions that keep us up at night. And the really exciting thing about this is that everything we need to answer these questions, is already right here. And more than this, this concept gives us power because our perceived weaknesses are actually our strengths - we celebrate the fact that we don’t serve avocado on toast, because for that magical fortnight in spring, we serve a killer smashed broadbeans! We don’t need anything that is NOT here in order to answer these questions. As connectors in our local food economy, we are co-creators in our own Cultureshed. This means that we can work with our friends who grow things and our friends who eat things to make our cultureshed exactly what we want it to be. And that’s bloody exciting.