Profile: Urban Growers
Grant LaBrooy and Byron Smith from Urban Growers are passionate about growing food and medicinal plants in urban spaces. Like me, they’re also on a quest to redefine gardening for folk who want to re-connect with nature in urban spaces but are not entirely sure how to go about it. Needless to say, it’s about time I had a chat with them about work, life and plants… Here’s how it went.
Please tell us about Urban Growers?
As most businesses do, Urban Growers started with a friendly conversation that escalated quickly. I met Grant when he was working as a chef and growing food at the Three Blue Ducks in 2013. At the time I was studying environmental science and working for a landscaping company. We got talking and decided that we were both dead keen on working for ourselves, getting outside amongst the natural world and learning more about growing food.
As a kid, picking our passionfruit vine and selling it on the highway was a natural transition into growing food for myself and others. Grant had spent years in kitchens all over the world, and between us we had plenty of ideas and creative vibes bouncing around – we thought we may as well put them to use. We enrolled to study horticulture together and before we’d even graduated we started up this thing we call Urban Growers.
These days, we’re out and about working on fun projects with like-minded people who want to maximise their space (commercial and residential) with edible gardens and creative solutions.
What does a typical day at Urban Growers involve?
Our days are really varied. On any given day we could be freshening up a garden for one of our long-term clients, planting out an epic new commercial space, teaching kids at the local school how to grow and harvest their own food, meeting with new and like-minded creatives to work out how they can get more green into their lives, sitting at the desk glued to our macs ploughing through paperwork, or if we’re on a good run, squeezing in a surf or dive.
How would you describe your work/what’s your philosophy?
For us, it is about cultivating urban green spaces to yield produce that will nourish and sustain us long after the last of the pesto has been licked from the bowl.
We’re pretty passionate about redefining the whole ‘gardening’ concept, and elevating it to a more sustainable and practical food focused idea. We try to do everything with honesty, community, education and fun in mind.
I guess our ethos is very much a reflection of the way we were both brought up. I was raised on a farm and both my Mum and Dad encouraged my extreme interest for all things nature and choosing balanced sustainable choices. I guess they made a somewhat honest dude outta me!
What is one lesson you have learnt since starting Urban Growers?
There have been quite a few so far! But one that comes to mind, is the reward of working for myself. Although its super hard at times (I mean ridiculously hard!), doing your own thing is really rewarding because you can shape what you do and carve your own path in whatever direction you want. The best thing is that you can think it, dream it, and then work out a way to do it, on your terms.
What are you passionate about?
We’re super passionate about making edible gardening accessible to everyone. We really want to show people how easy it is to grow their own food, no matter the space or resources at hand. Its great to see so many people wanting to know where their food comes from. People of all demographics really want to have a connection with the produce they eat.
We want to educate as many people as we can that having your own green space (no matter the size) is not only fun and easy, but it’s an inexpensive organic food source. An edible garden is a great place to learn from your mistakes and get stoked on your wins. It can be your sanctuary, your source or simply your sweet spot to kick off your shoes off and watch the sun go down, beer in hand.
What/who inspires you?
Nature has always inspired me more than anyone- look at all the flora and fauna that has evolved together, all those symbiotic relationships, that beauty is inspirational. (David Attenborough may have had something to do with it!)
What is your dream project?
We’re so stoked to have just started teaching the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Project at Bondi Public! The goal is to introduce primary school children to the pleasures of preparing, cooking, and eating a variety of foods they have grown and harvested themselves. This has been so fun and rewarding for us to share our skills and knowledge with such eager little students. Any project where there is an element of good communication and shared values, teaching, and growing a shared dream is awesome.
What are you looking forward to?
We are looking forward to growing on a larger scale for the Three Blue Ducks in Byron Bay. This will be a nice ongoing project, we basically grow what the boys need for the kitchen – its fresh, 0 mileage (200m if that counts) and the surfs not bad either.
If you had to make a garden with three plants, what would they be?
Avocado, Blueberry, Hemp.
If you were a plant, what would you be?
An Avocado tree big enough to house some little birds and animals, provide some fruit and shade and have a view from the canopy of the forest!
ps. Image at top of page by Craig Wall