Nathan Toleman and the rest of the Mulberry Group (the team behind Liminal, Higher Ground, Top Paddock and Kettle Black cafes) have opened their latest cafe.
Situated in Freshwater Creek, 10 minutes' south of Geelong, the Common Ground Project is a working cafe, farm and social enterprise designed to improve chefs' mental health by putting them in touch with the land.
The farm's produce will turn up on the menu at the onsite cafe, which opened on July 15. Dishes include breakfast gnocchi with mushrooms, eggs, bacon, goat's cheese and herbs, the Mulberry Group's famous hot cake, and a chicken schnitzel roll.
The seed was sown several years ago when Toleman invited his chefs to spend time farming his small patch of land on the Mornington Peninsula. Seeing how reinvigorated they were when they returned, he decided to expand the concept, so sold his Merricks property and leased the Freshwater Creek property.
From September 1, participating restaurants will pay a $230 weekly fee to send their chefs to the 1.6-hectare biodynamic farm at least one day a week. They'll start the day with meditation, then work on the farm, learning permaculture techniques between communal meals. In return, they'll receive a share of the produce grown to use in their restaurants.
"You can't put a price on the wellness on your staff," says Toleman. "Especially when you're getting produce out of it as well."
Any revenue the cafe raises plus revenue from membership fees will be reinvested in regenerative agricultural practices on the farm plus a range of mental health initiatives.
Open Mon-Fri 7am-3pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm.
Common Ground Project, 675 Anglesea Road, Freshwater Creek, commongroundproject.com.au