Erika and Hayden of Epicurean Harvest are two of the most impressive people I’ve met in a long time. From their plot of land just out of Blackheath, in the NSW Blue Mountains, they grow organic produce of the highest quality, and do so with quiet conviction, consideration and joy. A couple of years ago Hayden and Erika left Sydney and respective roles in horticulture research and Sydney University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment’s outreach and engagement team, to run their own show. They wanted to grow good things themselves and create a community around their garden. Just over one year after planting the first seed, these guys now supply direct to some of Australia’s top restaurants and are now branching out into community projects and supplying direct to lucky consumers in their Blue Mountains area.
I visited Erika and Hayden recently and left feeling completely inspired by what they are doing here. Since that visit, they’ve shared their story plus what motivates them with us here. So, if ever you needed a dose of motivation to take a leap of faith and get your hands dirty in the most literal and satisfying way, please read on…
Q: Please tell us a bit about your backgrounds, what led you both to become horticulturalists/growers of good things! And what were you up to before starting your own business?
We met during University when we were studying Horticultural Science at Sydney University. After that Hayden went on to complete a Research Masters on the aroma of Tasmanian Pepper in Southern France and Erika worked in the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment at the University of Sydney. She began as a project manager for food safety research with many industry bodies here and in the USA. She then became involved in the University’s outreach and engagement team, spreading the word in schools and the community about the science of agriculture. Although getting directly involved in the production system wasn’t the inspiration for starting our degrees, it became clear on completion that this would be a very direct way in which we could attempt to drive the industry and greater food system forward into the future.
Q: It was a chilly Autumn morning when I visited and my fingers were cold just taking pictures; this job must get pretty tough when it’s harvest day in the middle of an icy Mountain winter…but there must be some pretty great, rewarding bits too. Why do you do what you do, and what do you love most about it?
We love what we do because we want to connect the community to a food system that is more positive, beyond what a supermarket can supply. It is true, some days are pretty damn tough (I’m thinking frozen fingers, wet socks, icy wind) but at the end of the day it is exhilarating and humbling to be so involved and dependent on the environment. We also love eating fresh vegetables and sharing the surplus with friends!
Q: And I know you grow specifically for certain chefs, that must be pretty great, to work so closely with these pros and grow exactly to their specifications. Is that something you would like to do more of? And what’s the most rewarding aspect of this side of the business?
Yes it is very exciting and it is pretty easy to say the most rewarding thing is to see how excited they get about our produce and how they transfer that creative excitement into food and art on a plate. That chef/grower relationship is something we focus on in our business and will continue to focus on, but we are also excited about expanding the market side of Epicurean Harvest, supplying families with real, exciting, nutritious fruit and vegetables.
Q: Ok, so at this stage you guys don’t sell at markets, where can people find your amazing produce?
Good Question… Contacting us through our instagram account (@epicureanharvest) is probably the best option at the moment (pre website…). This growing season was our first proper crack at growing on a large scale, so there was much to learn and nut-out and the primary supply to chefs and restaurants kept us on our toes. We are hoping to be organised enough next growing season to become more involved in the local growers markets in the Blue Mountains.
Q: What would be your dream collaboration or project?
We have recently decided to support our local primary school, becoming a sponsor of the Blackheath Public School Cookbook. The reason for this is so they can better implement their kitchen garden, develop a teaching kitchen and contribute to a range of creative and educational pursuits for the kids. It would be wonderful to contribute further, and we aim to do so by becoming more involved in the food education, horticultural science and learning of youngsters in Blackheath and beyond. We are also interested in collaborating with some of the top chefs to host harvest dinners and talk about the interactions between people and food (beyond just the plate), to work with artists to communicate the importance and fragility of the environment on which we rely and with other international grower communities that celebrate good produce.
Thank you so much Erika and Hayden for being a part of Local is Lovely. You guys are an inspiration!