Ash Harrison is using share house backyards to grow fresh produce for city cafés.
Backyard farming with The Ash Patch
Ash Harrison has created a business that ties together more buzz words than a politician could hope to ram into one speech. It’s innovative, sustainable, hyperlocal, involves urban farming and taps into the share economy.
You can taste Ash’s produce in dishes at Café Troppo and The Depot Collective Café, and you can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.
But it’s also entirely pretension-free, and the reality of the venture is far from the hollowness those words conjure.
Called The Ash Patch, the fruit and veg production business began with Ash just doing something he enjoyed.
“I’ve always been heaps into gardening,” Ash says.
“Mum and Dad always had their little snow peas and tomatoes going in the backyard but I never really had any space to do it – I was in a little apartment in the city.”
After moving into a share house in the eastern suburbs Ash turned his attention to the overgrown and neglected backyard with gusto, clearing away tangles of weeds to reveal a pattern of garden beds surrounding the single ailing orange tree that had survived from more illustrious times.
“After that, it all sort of just happened, it snowballed,” says Ash. “My partner Laura works at Café Troppo – I had a surplus of food and I started giving it to them. And then Maddie [Harris – co-owner of Troppo and The Depot] just hit me up, and asked if I wanted to actually start supplying them properly.”
So Ash doubled down – expanding his operation into the share house backyard in the Western suburbs where Laura lives so he could keep up supply.
Riding between the two plots on his bike and making his Troppo and Depot deliveries in the same way, Ash is keeping things very environmentally friendly.
“That’s so there’s no food miles – it’s really close to the CBD and you can’t really get any fresher,” he says.
“I kind of feel like our whole food system has gone a bit too far – it’s definitely over-reached and it’s all super convenience based. There’s no logic to growing something 2,000 miles away and sending it here and using insane amounts of energy. It just makes a lot more sense to eat what’s growing where it’s growing at that time of the year.”
In the longer term, Ash thinks he could manage producing across four or five share house plots as a one-man business.
His activation of latent suburban space for something useful is, of course, part of a global urban farming movement and he’s drawn significant inspiration and knowledge from Canada’s Curtis Stone, as well as mining the great open source network of YouTube for tips and help.
But with seedlings and seeds sourced from The Seed Collection and Diggers, and soil conditioned using compost bought from an “absolute wizard” in the Hills, as well as careful considerations of the season – The Ash Patch is inherently Australian, and seems like the kind of bsuiness we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the very near future.