Fresh from patch to plate

    Black Shag cafe owners Dion Milanesi and Sylvie Boutelje-Chasteau are encouraging more people in Southland to grow their own food.

    AN Invercargill cafe’s owners are expanding their garden in an aim to make their business as self-sustainable as possible.

    Sylvie Boutelje-Chasteau and Dion Milanesi, from Black Shag on Dee St, started growing their own vegetables and herbs when they opened their espresso bar in September 2018.

    At the time, they had just four garden beds at the back of their home.

    But the Covid-19 lockdown and their own passion for gardening inspired them to get rid of their garage and create a whole veggie garden with three green tunnels and more than 30 varieties of crops.

    Mr Milanesi said he always had an interest in gardening, but had not had the chance to explore this passion when he was living in his hometown of Auckland.

    ‘‘When we moved to Invercargill and bought the house, I started to make some experiences and this motivated me to try to grow some food at the cafe.

    ‘‘It was meant to be just supplementary stuff but then it kind of grew from there.’’

    Almost all of the fruit, vegetables and herbs offered on Black Shag’s menu came from their patch.

    Bananas, potatoes and mushrooms were among the produce outsourced from local suppliers, but Ms Boutelje-Chasteau said they were planning to try to grow mushrooms in
    their garden.

    With the help of their chef, every day they offer a special menu tailored to use their organic products.

    ‘‘Our main thing is to be as local as possible and make everything we can by ourselves. We don’t use sprays or  chemicals,’’ Mr Milanesi said.

    ‘‘The dream is to be as self-sustained as possible, but we focus more on growing different things here. We are real foodies, we love flavours, we love vegetables so we like to create something interesting,’’ Ms Boutelje-Chasteau said.

    She said the feedback about their garden from the community had been great.

    Last year, she posted a tutorial about how to grow tomatoes and the response was overwhelming.

    ‘‘A man came to the cafe and said he did exactly what I taught in the video and he had the best crop of tomatoes ever.

    ‘‘I think this is one of my highlights, to be honest — it is a feeling of actually making a difference.

    ‘‘When people are growing their own stuff, inspired by you, that is really, really cool.’’

    And that was what the couple wanted to encourage people across the region to do — especially during Covid-19 times.

    ‘‘The lockdown and Covid has put people in touch with where their food comes from. All the issues with supply chain shone a light on the issue so lots of people are more interested in gardening and growing their own food,’’ Ms Boutelje-Chasteau said.

    ‘‘I think more people should try to grow their own food. This is just an example — we’ve gone overboard — but it is amazing the quantity and quality of food you can grow in a small space.’’