When A. Baker’s Jarrod Deaton and former partner Chris Dennis were operating Two before Ten in the city, they decided to grow some vegetables on a small plot in Murrumbateman, and started a conversation on social media that led to a connection with Canberra’s backyard gardeners. Late last year, A. Baker decided to celebrate that connection with a monthly Backyard Produce Dinner; and by all accounts, it looks set to become a tradition for the NewActon eatery, which is committed to the idea of local produce.
“At the time, Chris and I had a small property in Murrumbateman. We put in a little plot and took all our staff out there for an afternoon. We planted a whole bunch of things that we would use at the café,” says Jarrod. “We shared that story on Facebook, and soon people started following us and talking about their produce, and saying things like ‘I’ve got too much, can you do anything with it?’ Of course we can do something with it!”
Soon, customers were bringing in produce from their own backyards, trading it for coffee or other items in the café, and exchanging tips and recipes. “We would share a recipe for making jam at home with them, or trading their produce for coffee. It was great. A real connection with the community,” he says.
When the guys opened A. Baker, the tradition migrated with them, and these days, a casual observer may notice a haphazard assortment of boxes filled with an array of fruits and vegetables stacked against a wall or on a bench top, waiting to be taken into the kitchen. On the day we were there, big ripe purple coloured figs and Granny Smith apples, at the height of their season, dominated the bounty.
It seemed fitting to celebrate the season’s best produce with a monthly dinner, and that is what the guys did. The last event–a sell out–was held in mid February, and they will be hosting their next one in April.
Beyond the backyard produce phenomenon that A. Baker are witnessing, Jarrod says that they remain committed to the idea of sourcing as much produce as they can from local sources. He does stress however, that it a tough job. “You really have to get out and find the right people that can supply the things you need. It takes some effort, but it’s worth it, and sometimes of course, you just can’t get some things locally.”
He frowns on the idea of overstating the local thing, and is dismissive of those that may pay it lip service in order to gain some kind of market edge. “It’s really about knowing what it is you are buying for your customers, about knowing the growers, and being able to talk to them about your customers’ needs,” he says. At the moment, A. Baker also grow their own herbs out of a garden at NewActon, and they have found a reliable local grower that will custom plant items they want to buy locally. Oh, and of course, there are those backyard guys.