Wollongong distillery creates urban farm to grow garnishes, reduce hospitality green waste

Normally when land becomes available in Wollongong’s CBD, the clock starts ticking until it is turned into an apartment block.

Instead, distiller Jared Smith and publican Ryan Aitchison have leased an old car wash and gravel car park to create a distillery and urban farm.

“When Ryan suggested the idea to put a 10-row passionfruit farm in the middle of the CBD, I thought it was a joke, but a couple of days later I realised he was completely serious,” Mr Smith said.

He said it was an ingenious idea because passionfruit was a high-yielding fruit.

“I’m hoping we’ll get enough to suit our needs just from these 10 rows,” he said.

Between Mr Aitchison’s nearby pub and Mr Smith’s plans to incorporate what he grows into his beverages, passionfruit are just one of many crops that could end up on plates or in drinks.

“We want to showcase Australian native edibles, which is something I’m really passionate about,” Mr Smith said.

“Growing things like native thyme, native juniper, strawberry gum, river mint, lilly pillys and native ginger allows us to be creative with our garnish offerings and incorporate them into our alcoholic products.”

Processing organic waste
Mr Aitchison drops into pubs and cafes each week to collect their organic waste and bring it to the urban farm.

It results in 500 litres of waste each week being composted by worm farms placed around the garden.

“It means we can take on a heck of a lot of waste and we see the upside straight away — all the plants around the bins have gone crazy,” Mr Aitchison said.

“It’s becoming cliche for a venue to put some solar panels on and say they’re at the forefront of sustainability and we’re not just out to say it, we’re out to prove it.”

Investment in environment
While the urban farm has required time and money, Mr Aitchison said consumers would reward businesses they saw making a substantial positive environmental impact.

“Businesses know the marketplace is starting to want sustainable practices, but not enough for them to invest in it or take the risk,” he said.

“We’re starting a case study and showing the amount of time and money, but also the upside it’s had to our business.

“We’re creating anecdotal evidence that it works.”

He said the farm would show what could be generated on a small patch of land.

“The neighbours [who] used to look out at a gravel car park are ecstatic, and it’s on a main road driving in, so when you drive into Wollongong, you’ll see a shrine to sustainability and urban farming,” he said.