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LOOP GROWERS: the closed loop composting system feeding Brisbane cafes


Alice & Phil, founders of LoopAlice & Phil, founders of Loop Growers

Loop Growers is a market garden, a composting solution for Brisbane’s venues, a community galvaniser, an educator and a completely closed loop food system. 

Wearing many hats, Alice Star and Phil Garozzo developed Loop Growers almost six years ago. Alice had been learning about land regeneration and was putting it into practice on her dad Rob’s farm out on Jinibara and Jagera country, at Samford, 30km from Brisbane. Her Dad had a garlic crop as a hobby and after an over-abundance of garlic, Alice started selling it to her mate who was a chef at Merriweather cafe in South Brisbane. 

Alice and farm maremma OB
Alice and OB the farm's maremma
After he’d been travelling and WOOF-ing in the US and Mexico, Phil returned to his hometown of Brisbane and worked at Merriweather. Upon working in the cafe scene, he noticed the immense amount of food scraps going in the bin and recognised the potential of using it as a resource. So Phil started a separation system for Merriweather – a colour-coded bucket system in the kitchen – and was processing it through a rooftop garden. Alice was already exploring ways to diversify the garlic yield on the farm by co-growing other veggies. The pair realised it made a lot of sense to combine composting and vegetable growing and Loop Growers was born.
Phil with the farm yield growing in the foreground
Phil with the farm yield growing in the foreground

Alice and Phil quit city life in 2015 and moved out to the farm. Using the Merriweather “prototype” to inform their process, they got a bunch of other venues on board and have since been diverting commercial kitchen waste from landfill to grow produce that goes right back to the same kitchens and becomes delicious cafe meals.

We photographed our latest blanket – the Geelong-made Peak blanket – out at Loop Growers, enjoying the beautiful backdrop of locally grown produce and surrounding lush South East Queensland bush.

The Peak blanket by the shed at Loop with George and Azzerdeen
The Peak blanket by the shed at Loop with George and Azzerdeen

After the shoot, Sammy sat down and had a cuppa with Alice and Phil to hear more. 

“We develop relationships with venues around Brisbane – mostly cafes and bars – to divert what would normally be going into landfill from their kitchens into yields that we can bring back out to the farm to compost, in varying different ways, and use the compost to grow veggies. And those veggies go back to the same venues, which closes the loop. So that’s why we’re Loop Growers.” says Alice.

“Waste is a human construct. It’s not something that exists in nature.”

 

Produce growing and beds being prepared (and doggo)

Produce growing and beds being prepared (and doggo)

Loop’s sorting and composting system is different to what we’re used to doing in our own backyard composts, and even commercial scale operations, explains Alice:

“The main difference we have to most compost systems – and that’s backyard or industrial composting systems – is that everything gets separated out before it comes to us. So all the citrus, and any acidic stuff gets separated out from the normal green stuff. And eggshells get separated, bread ends, and milk leftover from the coffee-making process. So all of this gets captured and used.”

The bread gets dried out and then soaked in curdled milk, perfect for feeding chickens. The eggshells get dried out in the sun and ground up to be used as an agricultural lime alternative – one less resource for the farm to buy. The green compost becomes food for future veggies. The pair also use a local cabinet maker’s sawdust waste to carbonise their compost. 

The creek at the farm

The creek at the farm

Given the scraps are separated at cafe level, the process means that everyone running the cafes and bars – from floor staff to chefs – are involved with the process. And the flow-on effect is that people have more agency over what was considered their waste. 

“It forces people to interact with what they used to be throwing away before. Usually we throw things in the same bin and it gets magically taken away. But the effect of the system we’ve developed is that people use more of their scraps before they even compost it as the value of it increases. Their bottom line becomes better because less is wasted too.” says Alice. 

Phil adds that it’s not just the cafe’s employees that benefit from such a system, but the greater community too. 

“It’s a ripple effect. The thinking behind working with cafes is that you work with a small number of people each week but have the potential to reach thousands every week with the message. So many people hear about what we do just by connecting with the food – without ever seeing the farm or meeting us.” says Phil. 

“So ultimately, we support, educate and assist businesses to have more sustainable food systems”.

Eggplants almost ready for picking at Loop Growers
Eggplants almost ready for picking at Loop Growers

On how to create more versions of Loop Growers, Alice and Phil are resolute that it’s contextually different everywhere you go.

“You can’t cookie cutter these things because everyone’s community is different. We built our model on what our community needs, which was focused on the hospitality industry,” says Alice. 

“Our view is that lots of small farms, and enterprises, that all help their own community, will create the most change.”

Needless to say we are huge fans of Loop Growers – we even wrote a blog on them back in 2016 about their starting journey. Anyone actualising closed loop principles, mindfully working with the land and growing the food we eat with minimum food miles are heroes in our eyes. 

If you’re in Brisbane, there are lots of ways to support Loop Growers. They hold regular farm tours so you can see the composting in action, or you can eat their produce at participating venues.

Sammy and Karina photographing the Peak blanket at Loop

Sammy and Karina on location at Loop Growers

Pics by Seljak Brand and George Levi.