Waste is a design flaw
- Kate Krebs
In November last year, we took the first tentative step towards winding down our reliance on waste, single-use, disposable, throw-away, rubbish - choose your term! - takeaway coffee cups. We decided that we no longer wanted to be responsible for unthinkingly handing our customers a piece of destructive waste. We wanted to design a system that DIDN'T include the flaw that coffee cup waste implies.
If you’ve joined us on the journey so far, you’ll notice that we began offering reusable ceramic mugs from our mug library as the default option for all takeaway coffees, only providing single-use waste cups for an extra cost - most of it donated to Clean Up Australia. Since that time, about 90 per cent of our takeaway coffees have been served in reusable cups - whether they were cups belonging to the customer or cups we loaned out. (Let us just pause here for a sec to give every single person who went to the extra effort of using a reusable cup for their takeaway drink a big high five!)
Even last year, we envisioned that we would one day make the move to completely eliminating our use of waste, single-use, disposable, throw-away, rubbish takeaway cups.
Friends, that day has come. As of today, we will not have one single disposable take-away cup to offer takeaway customers.
Our shelves are heaving under the weight of reusable mugs donated to us by the conscientious people in our community, and these mugs are ready for you to use if you forget to bring your reusable cup with you.
But it’s not just the donation of mugs that enables us to make this big shift. We’ve been emboldened by the enthusiasm of our customers for this little scheme, and by the proactive, environmentally progressive community in which we live.
Even if you don’t live in Yack, chances are you’ve heard about some of the community groups doing awesome, inspiring stuff, and punching waaaaay above their weight, in the scheme of small-town community environmental groups. Groups like Plasticwise Yackandandah. Or Totally Renewable Yackandandah. Or the committee behind the Yackandandah Folk Festival. These people and groups have set a standard, created a set of values, started the conversation and set expectations of just how hard we should all be trying to live better, more environmentally conscious lives.
We count ourselves fortunate to know that these groups, and the people behind them, have our back when it comes to making a change like this. It’s groups like these that make ambitious changes not just possible, but inevitable.
There’s no denying that our complete and irreversible shift away from disposable takeaway cups is part of a wider cultural shift that has been sweeping its way across our country for a few years now. You can see it in supermarkets no longer giving away plastic bags. You can see it in the community’s embrace of the ideas behind Plastic Free July. You can probably see it in other cafes around you, as they also turn their backs on disposable cups, straws and packaging.
You’re probably already part of this shift. But at this juncture, we’d like to present a fun little notion we encountered recently that we think has enormous merit, in terms of really consolidating our community’s stance on environmental behavior change. It’s the idea of the “Yackandandah Green Line”.
The Green Line is invisible, but you’ll know it’s there, because you’ll be hit by a warm, fuzzy feeling when you cross it. Traversing it, you’ll be stung by a sense that you’re part of something big and good and of common worth. The Green Line exists on the outskirts of our town, and by stepping over it, you can try on the Yackandandah “green” value set for size, even just for a day. Think of the Green Line as representing the unique culture being created by Yack groups, individuals and businesses that care so much about the environment. Just as they care about the environment, so too are they concerned with ensuring that everyone - local and visitors alike - find a way to share in this culture.
As such, you’re going to need to be prepared for a day on our side of the Green Line. That means packing your reusable shopping bags. It means grabbing your reusable cup and remembering to bring it with you when you come for takeaway coffee! It means filling up your drink bottle from Yack’s many water stations and avoiding bottled water. It means bringing your bike with you, parking your car away from the main street and pedalling your way around our town during your stay. It means sorting and disposing of your waste as carefully as the volunteers at the Yack Folk Festival do, to ensure that everything that can be reused or recycled IS reused or recycled. It means reducing your electricity use while you’re here - think of it as your contribution to Totally Renewable Yackandandah’s bid to have our town entirely powered by renewable energy within the next four years!
Stepping over the Green Line - and indeed, participating in waste-free cafe culture - isn’t scary, intimidating, or an exclusive experience reserved only for those who can show their “green stripes”. The one thing we’ve learned during this whole crazy cup caper is that it’s for everyone - grandmas with beautiful porcelain cups, hipsters who like to drink their coffee from jars, tradies clenching thermos flasks in their fists on their way to a job. We want to make sure that everyone can participate, whether they’re testing the waters or are die-hard “green liners”. As of today, we want to be part of a town-wide move to make the Green Line a little more visible and explicit. In our case, we’re doing it one reusable cup at a time.
Join us, won’t you?!
At the start of autumn, after that first drop of rain, we scurried to the pine forest down the road to check whether the season’s first saffron milkcap mushrooms had poked their heads through the pine needles carpeting the forest floor.
We returned home, our basket empty, after that first visit. Regardless of how much we willed them to be there, these things happen in their own time and according to their own plans. With the right light, the right rain, the right temperatures. We could desire them all we liked. We could even plan what we were going to do with them. But in the end, it’s not up to us. To paraphrase those crazy kids in The Goonies – out there, it’s our time, but in the forest, it’s their time. We had to be patient.
On our second visit to the forest something had aligned. Mushrooms were scattered across the forest floor in all their lobster-coloured, smooth-topped, perfect-gilled glory. Kneel down to cut one, and you could almost swivel 360 degrees and pick five more. This was autumn. The season was upon us.
Over the ensuing weeks, we spent hours scrambling about in the eerie half-light of fading afternoons, pine needles in our hair and tangled in our jumpers, collecting mushrooms. Starting in one favourite spot. Trying a new spot. Clambering over the fallen, moss-covered log that we saw last time, and up a small ridge to discover a new outcrop we hadn't seen before. Bending and stooping, brushing aside debris on the forest floor, dodging mineshafts and blackberries. Senses focused on being right here, vision sharpened to the area directly below our feet, and two or three metres around that. Thoughts of emails that needed answering, cakes that should have been baked, evaporated. Wondering and adoring out loud. Whooping and calling to each other across the stillness of the afternoon as we found another one! And another! Revelling in participating in our local food culture so viscerally and so immediately. Thanking the forest and the season for giving up their bounty each time.
A mere few weeks ago – about a month after our first, fruitless, visit - we went to the forest again, basket and mushrooming knife in hand. We knew that the season was coming to an end, and yet we clung to it, desperate to taste one more harvest. Around us, the dangerously red toadstools were turning to orange mush. The tiny pin-prick mushrooms that dotted the forest were collapsing on themselves. It was as though everything was melting away; as though Dali had taken his paintbrush to the scene.
In amongst the withering funghi we found a few decent saffies to pick. But our efforts were mostly in vain. We voiced our disappointment to the silent forest, and then mid-grumble, stopped short...
It struck us like a beam of light in the gloom. We can’t shake our fists at the forest or the rapidly deteriorating mushrooms, because this is what living one’s local food culture feels like. The feeling of loss, of scarcity, of seasonal variation in availability, is one that is perhaps foreign to us, in our you-want-it-you-got-it capitalist market economy. The notion of something being available for just one or two months of the year, is very much laden with negative value in our culture. Through capitalism's lens, seasonality denies us the choice that we, as "consumers", have come to consider ourselves entitled to.
However, the end of a season, as much as the beginning, is cause for celebration. The end of mushroom season reminds us that there exists incredible food diversity in our local cultureshed, and that the excitement of searching for, harvesting and cooking up the year’s first saffron milkcaps would be significantly diminished if the season simply stretched on forever. To will the season to continue, and for nature to contort itself to our desires, is to act according to a set of confected, very culturally specific “rules” to which we have grown dangerously accustomed. It’s to abide by a set of expectations set for us – and which we now perpetuate and set for nature – by an unnatural market-based economy that cares not a shred for the delight that comes from unique, local cycles of abundance and scarcity, or for foods that nourish not just individuals, but also places and communities and stories.
The start and end of each season is something so specific to each geographic area, to a tiny window of time in the ebb and flow of a year. It is a cornerstone of the very idea of a "cultureshed". It defines our cultureshed, not just as place but as place-in-time-and-of-people-and-of-nature, infused with a one-in-a-million food culture that cannot be replicated by a hyper-market-economy, no matter how hard it tries.
And for that, we celebrate.
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.
A few months ago, the Victorian Government made it more difficult for consumers to know whether the eggs they were buying were really “free-range”. To our minds, "free-range" means that chooks should be able to freely roam pasture, with plenty of space to move, the ability to peck and scratch and dust-bath and behave the way that chooks do and always have. The CSIRO has a voluntary model code for free-range eggs – which is endorsed by animal welfare groups - recommending no more than 1,500 birds per hectare. The state government, however, in its recent decision, determined that “free-range” eggs could be those that came from farms with a stocking density of 10,000 chooks per hectare. That’s one chook per square metre. Or seven times the CSIRO’s voluntary standard. By the Victorian Government’s definition, the birds require adequate access to ventilation and light, but are not strictly required to have access to outside ranging. Confused about how this constitutes “free range”? So are we.
Since we opened Saint Monday, we’ve been pernickety about the eggs we purchase and serve to our customers. Like most people who have owned backyard chooks, we have seen, firsthand via our own lovely girls, how important it is for chickens to be able to live their lives like real chooks, rather than as cogs in an industrial machine. Fortunately for us, it has been easy to be picky – there are a plethora of local egg producers around us, who more than adhere to these CSIRO standards, and whose practices ensure their hens are happy and healthy. We have, since day one, purchased eggs from both Kay Panton at Dey Sorormin, whose girls are fed organic fed and are free to roam the pastures of the farm, located in Bruarong, as well as the awesome team of Erin and Bel at RAD Growers, located in Bungowannah.
Both Dey Sorormin and RAD produce seriously good eggs. Eggs that have perky yolks, whose colours change with the seasons and the range of feed available to the girls. Eggs that poach beautifully, and taste creamy and fresh. Eggs that are not just delicious, but also come with the added benefit of giving us “warm and fuzzy feelings” at knowing that we can support and promote the hard work of two local producers (and their beautiful chooks!), whose ethics and values are so central to the way they do business. And so, two weeks ago, we decided that we wanted to make sure other Yackandandah locals could buy these eggs for themselves. You can now buy RAD eggs by the dozen from Saint Monday!
We were super glad to have a chat to Erin, from RAD Growers, about her eggs, to learn more about the values behind them, the chickens’ “nomadic” lifestyles as true free-rangers, and to give you confidence that these are eggs produced according to extremely high standards and with the utmost transparency when it comes to animal welfare and ecological standards.
RAD eggs are in stock at Saint Monday right now - duck in (excuse the pun) and check 'em out for yourself! And also, don't forget to have a peek at the great work of RAD Growers online at www.radgrowers.com
You should see the Saint Monday kitchen on a Wednesday morning. That’s the morning we receive our haul of fresh, locally grown biodynamic fruit and vegetables from Matt and Tamsin, the fine folk behind Greenwood and Grogan Produce. On Wednesday mornings, you’ll find crates spilling over with just-picked greens balanced on top of the dishwasher. Or paper bags brimming with the supplest green beans you’ve ever seen, slumped beside the toaster. Back in summer, tomatoes tumbled across the kitchen benches like coloured balls of wool from a basket – purple ones and yellow ones and ones that blushed so profusely red that it was almost rude.
Now, we’re into the season of potatoes – startling purple congo potatoes, and creamy little bundles of deliciousness that fit into the palm of your hand. And pumpkins. Oh my god, the pumpkins. Butternuts and golden nuggets vie for attention as they line the head-height walls of the kitchen like proud, stout sentries. Every Wednesday feels like a celebration of abundance, and we can scarcely wait to finish what we’re doing – icing that cake that we’re just about to put on the counter, or plating up the breakfast we’re in the middle of – to rummage through boxes and bags to see what delights Matt and Tamsin have brought us from their farm up the road in Staghorn Flat.
These fresh, locally produced goodies have shaped, to an enormous degree, the items that have appeared on our menu since we opened, with our dishes bending and flexing around the ingredients that have been available as the seasons changed. Nicole, Saint Monday’s chef, has invented and concocted dishes that have showcased these ingredients – whether they were the curiously wrapped tomatilloes that suddenly appeared on our Idler's Plates, delightful little cucamelons that teetered atop our Nacho Mountain, or damson plums that found their way into our housemade jam!
So when we became aware of a novel ethical and local dining challenge, called Give A Fork, whose aim was to provide the impetus for those working in the hospitality industry to help set standards when it came to increasing the value placed on locally and ethically produced food and minimising food waste, we knew we had to be part of it. Ever since we opened Saint Monday’s doors, we’d been very conscious of working with those growing and producing food in our area, but the challenge, with its four clear rules, has inspired us throughout April to go further still.
The rules? That any dishes created for the month-long challenge put vegetables at centre stage; that meat, if it was used, was free-range, local and ethically produced; that items that might otherwise be composted – like vegetable skins or carrot tops – were used as part of the dish; and that the provenance of ingredients was able to be traced.
Needless to say, Nicole embraced this challenge with gusto, creating two dishes that pivot on key ingredients supplied by Greenwood and Grogan. The first – Pepita Pepita Porridge Eater, a vegan porridge of quinoa and biodynamic pumpkin, with generous lashings of creamed coconut and garnished with handfuls of maple-baked pumpkin skin and spiced pumpkin seeds and nuts. Not only does this little baby lean heavily upon the incredible flavour of G&G's glorious pumpkins, but it uses the whole pumpkin – flesh, seeds and skin. Little ol’ Pepita Pepita has turned out to be the sort of dish that has people awestruck at how downright tasty a vegie porridge can be. Seriously.
Nicole’s second brilliant dish highlights those little purple congo potatoes I mentioned before, turning them into a gnocchi that becomes the centrepiece of the “out of this world” Spudnik Gratin. Purple gnocchi is baked in a creamy sauce and topped with a blue-cheesy, day-old-sourdough-y crumble (the blue cheese is from Locheilan Farmhouse Cheese, and is produced in the Goulburn Valley by Chris’ dad, Bruce; the sourdough we bake ourselves). Again, veggies and cheese produced by people we know, love and whose processes we trust, are celebrated here, and day-old sourdough gets a new lease on life as a topping.
Not only have these dishes been delicious, we kind of hope that they've also been miniature "revolutions" on plates, playing a role in helping to change our behaviour, and maybe even the behaviour of those who have tasted these dishes. We've had to be imaginative to use what we've had on hand to create something that works. We've been encouraged to look differently at things that might otherwise have ended up in the compost bin - to consider them valuable and tasty ingredients, rather than waste. We've had fun finding out about those pumpkins and potatoes, about the best way to use Bruce's blue cheese to create just the right crumble for the top of the gratin. It has been a process involving conversation, experimentation, tasting, trial and error. It's been good wholesome fun. We've felt good about playing a part in a unique, local food system built upon the honest, hard work of local people doing what they love, and have felt an intense sense of responsibility towards articulating the value of the food we access via this system by using every last scrap of it as best we can.
We hope that those who have tasted these dishes are inspired to do more than just lick their lips in satisfaction. We hope it has sparked a bit of curiosity and excitement about the potential for each of us, as chefs in our own home kitchens, to invest in great local food and prepare it with a sense of consciousness around its provenance and the human, cultural and ecological energy it embodies.
Saint Monday might be a tiny café in a small town, but the fact that a major facet of our operation involves offering coffee to the good folk coming through our doors means that we’re part of an intricate and bewildering global coffee network. In many ways, it can be terrifying to think about the role we play as a ‘cog’ in this machine. Although the concept of ‘food miles’ is grossly inadequate in capturing the ecological, social and cultural impacts of something like coffee, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the journey a coffee bean takes from the farm upon which it was produced to a cup at Saint Monday involves mind-blowingly colossal distances (an average of about 13,000km, in case you’re interested).
Putting ‘food miles’ to one side and considering, instead, the carbon emissions involved in growing, harvesting, sourcing, selecting, packaging, shipping, roasting, repackaging, transporting locally, grinding, brewing and harnessing the multiple resources required to facilitate the serving of what seems to be a simple cup of coffee, makes it increasingly clear that that cup of coffee can be responsible for the production of some serious emissions. (As an example - albeit, a European one - a study from 2008 estimated that the farm to table CO2 emissions involved in serving Costa Rican coffee in German cafes came to about 59.12g per cup). The long and short of it (pun intended!) is that this is one product that, if handled without care, respect or mindfulness, has the potential to unravel any good we might be trying to do in other facets of our business...
Let me stop here for just a second. I hear you ask, "well, why serve coffee at all, if you aspire to difference? Is that not hypocritical?". It's a really good question, and one that we ask ourselves a lot, given that it means we're continuing to shackle ourselves to a system that we want to help change. I guess, our answer relates to the positive social and cultural properties of coffee. We love that there seems to be a power about coffee that, for centuries, has brought people together to philosophise, connect, laugh, recount stories and even plot revolutions. There is a rich and diverse cultural history attached to coffee, and we want to participate in that. We want to serve good coffee to the people we know and love in our community, and we want to do so even in the knowledge that there is this incredible gravity associated with this little bean. We want our role in this global network to have a positive impact for our community, and for communities in places we will never get to see. Knowing what we do about coffee’s impact has upped the stakes for us, and means that to feel good about serving it, we need to be very conscious of how we source and use it - we need to do it right. We need to prepare it with care and ensure that its full value (economic, social and ecological) is conveyed to those who are drinking it with us, so as to respect its origins and those other good people working so hard to grow this incredible crop 13,000km away. Hypocrites our choice may make us, but I think George Monbiot is spot on - "Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short."
Part of our attempt to address this gap between our aspirations and our actions has been working to acquaint every Saint Mondayer, whether they use our coffee machine or not, with the people and processes around the coffee we use. And so, this week, as many of us as could fit in a minivan took a field trip to our supplier, Melbourne-based independent specialist coffee roaster, Coffee Supreme. We wanted to not only meet some of the people involved in the more local side of the coffee supply chain, but also pick their brains as to how we could best use and serve their beans.
Tucked away in an industrial area of Abbotsford, Coffee Supreme’s headquarters buzz not just with the constant din of coffee beans rattling about inside the belly of their Probat drum roaster, but also the busy-ness of people talking, making, tasting and despatching coffee. Coffee Supreme used to offer Fairtrade/Fair Trade options, but for the past few years it has forgone such certification schemes and taken the extra step of trading directly with coffee producers, mills and exporters. (They’ve written a great post laying out their rationale for this decison in ‘black and white’ here - it's definitely worth taking the time to have a read.) Members of CS’s Melbourne-based team travel regularly to its principle producer-countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and Indonesia - to not only taste freshly harvested coffee, but scrutinise coffee producers’ management strategies and social standards. They take a holistic view of the production process, with fairness and sustainability as their yardsticks. As Andre, who meets us at the door of the Coffee Supreme roastery tells us, the cornerstone of the business is its focus on cultivating strong, direct, trusting, long-lasting relationships with producers to source the highest quality green beans available. In doing so, Coffee Supreme is committed to paying producers sustainable, fair prices that reflect the fact that the product it is purchasing is grown according to high, specialty standards.
We're invited to dip our hands into hession sacks full of these beautiful green beans before we’re introduced to Matt, one of Coffee Supreme’s roasting gurus. Against a backdrop of coffee storage hoppers draped with sacks labelled with each bean’s country of origin, Matt performs something of a juggling act for us, explaining the intricacies involved in roasting the perfect batch, while keeping one eye trained on a computer screen to ensure he is able to flick off the roaster’s heating elements at precisely the right instant to achieve the ‘first crack’ - the stage at which much of the coffee beans’ moisture has been evaporated off, preserving the unique origin characteristics of the bean. We then watch as the beans are air cooled and poured into a tub for packaging. Andre whizzes us through the tech room, where coffee machines wait in various states of maintenance and repair, and the despatch room where we see one of our own coffee orders being packaged. It’s then off to the training room...
Half of our group are coffee making virgins, who may have made themselves a coffee or two on the machine at the cafe, but who have not yet made one for Saint Monday customers. So there’s an air of trepidation about touching the gleaming La Marzocco machine, let alone using it to transform these precious beans and hand-bottled Saint David Dairy milk into hot beverages. However, Andre has a knack for teaching and building confidence. He talks about controlling variables - temperature, weight, tamp pressure, hygiene - in order to produce the perfect shot. Art meets science, mathematics comes together with metaphor, and before we know it, we are - coffee virgins and aficionados alike - pulling shots and texturing milk like it’s the 11 o’clock coffee rush hour.
We leave Coffee Supreme not just with new skills, but with a tangible sense of connection to the other people scattered along the long and complicated chain that supplies us with our coffee. It’s a small step towards learning how we can fit into this network on our own terms, and do right not just by our customers, but by those who are making such high quality coffee available to us. And it's a step towards learning to articulate more clearly the full value and potential of what seems to be just a simple cup of coffee in a tiny cafe in our small town.
Hi there. My name is Lauren. His name is Chris. You can find us in a little shopfront called Saint Monday that has a perfect view out onto Yackandandah’s main street. On any given day, from the windows of Saint Monday, you’ll spy Toto dogs snoozing on the pavement, babies chattering in their prams, and neighbours leaning against the verandah posts to shoot the breeze with each other. It’s a tableau that we love to steal glances at while we hurtle about inside this little space, making coffee and bread and cakes and lunches for our neighbourhood.
We’ve done two and a half circuits of the moon since Saint Monday first opened its doors. A ferocious summer spent cobbling together tables and chairs from salvaged goods and op shop finds in the twilight breeze, and learning how to square a counter top against two wonky old brick walls has turned - more quickly than we could have anticipated – into the relief of autumn. Now, each dark morning when we sweep the tiny patch of pavement in front of Saint Monday, we’re brushing aside yellowing leaves and acorns. It gets me to thinking that finally, here, now, we’ve rooted ourselves in a place from which the changes of the season, the changes of our community, play out larger than they ever have, right in front of our eyes. And it’s just what we wanted.
Saint Monday was born of a notion that has crept up on us steadily over the past few years – that it’s when you can see your impact upon the world, both the positive and the negative, and do something to amplify the positive and reduce the negative, that life is at its most rewarding, its fairest, its most responsible. It’s an idea that has been espoused by many, most of whom weave the term ‘ecological footprint’ into their theory. However, this idea – and the action that necessarily accompanies it - was driven home to me most forcefully by post-development theorist Wolfgang Sachs’ ‘home perspective’. Sachs calls upon people of the global north – like you and me – who use an alarmingly disproportionate amount of global ecological space to sustain our lifestyles, to “make room for others by way of an orderly retreat”, and to embark upon a “reform of home out of a cosmopolitan spirit” (in "Planet Dialectics", 1999:87).
While we had been inching our way towards it for a few years, our ‘orderly retreat’ began in earnest last year when we decided that if we wanted to truly live in Yackandandah, if we truly wanted to reduce our own negative impacts upon the world, and amplify our positive impacts, we needed to find a way to stop getting in the car each morning and driving away from it to make our livelihoods. (Chris had been driving to a café 45 minutes away, where he had been working as a barista. My commute continues to whisk me away to an office in ‘town’, 40 minutes away, three times a week.) We needed to root our livelihoods in the place in which we slept and ate and hung our washing out and volunteered and gathered with friends. We needed to wind back our support for an industry that made its fortune ripping a finite resource out of the ground, and shipping it halfway around the world, via a dozen or more conflict zones, so that people like us could continue to unthinkingly put a key in the ignition of a vehicle to drive away from our hometowns. We needed to find a way to utilise our skills to build something for ourselves and our community. It was only when we chanced upon a little weatherboard shopfront available for lease in Yackandandah’s main street that we decided such a thing might actually be possible. Finally, it seemed like we could choose to really commit to our reform of home.
So, I guess you could say there’s a certain politics behind Saint Monday. It’s a slow, deliberate politics, with nature and people at its core. Saint Monday strives not just to make a difference, but to be different. We’re cultivating a privately owned business based upon a non-growth model that can be a space for collaboration, sharing and focusing upon the people, skills, attributes and resources that are unique to the little place in which we live. We like to think that Saint Monday is something uniquely shaped by the dynamics of both the people behind it, and the town in which it is located – in much the same way that the taste of a wine is influenced by its terroir.
We’ve been fortunate that a lot of good people have fallen into step beside us – our chef, Nicole, for one. She committed herself to an unknown and untested venture right back at the start, and has brought incredible knowledge (like an understanding of just when the pine mushrooms will be ready for foraging and preserving), and an uncanny ability to transform the humblest of dishes into a true articulation of this little piece of the world via her use of the local and the seasonal. And Katrina and Emily and Merri, who, before the doors were even open, seemed to be able to picture the same thing we had been imagining – a space in which people could be together – and who have spent the past two and a half months welcoming and caring for every person who has walked through the door. And Anna, Elvie and Jackson who have come to us with such incredible determination, enthusiasm and commitment to learning, and who are not just great young hospitality people, but also warm, engaging and hospitable people. And Gabbi, whose experience in and love of the natural environment in which we happen to find ourselves seems to infuse everything she does. Or our recent addition, Matt, who may just be our very own renaissance man - he can not only install a solar panel, but also bake killer Sicilian almond biscuits. And Jenna, whose natural affinity and ability with food means that, when she and Nicole are in the kitchen together, great things happen!
Saint Monday is a business, yes. But for Chris and I, it’s also an expression of who we are, and importantly, where we want to be. I hope you'll join us for the journey.