When I arrived to volunteer in the kitchen at Growing Abundance’s café called The Local, I quickly saw why the name was so apt. First, the kitchen crew assessed the food in the fridge that needed to be used and started crafting meals from miscellaneous ingredients sourced from local farms. As they brainstormed the menu, a farmer stopped in with boxes of tomatoes that he couldn’t sell and we incorporated those. Then a resident dropped off some excess lemons and herbs from his backyard garden that would have otherwise gone to the landfill. When you’re using what’s around you like this, each day brings a different menu that utilizes food in season and redistributes so-called “waste”.


I sat down with Nikki Valentini later in the community garden behind the café to hear more about the story of this social enterprise cafe. She explained how this was just one of Growing Abundance’s approaches to building the local food economy, eliminating food waste, reducing food miles and emissions, increasing food security, and the list goes on with health benefits, jobs, and education opportunities that stem from this work. Zooming out even further, Nikki explains how the relocalization of food is just one part of Castlemaine’s holistic plan for systemic change.

Castlemaine is a great example of a town that understands the need to restructure everything and is taking action to relocalize its systems across the board, from energy and housing to food and waste. As Nikki describes, many local initiatives like Growing Abundance sprouted out of big-picture strategizing sessions about theories like deep ecology, permaculture, and peak oil. There is a community bulk buy solar program to make renewable energy more accessible, some plans to make electricity from waste, and networks of innovative farmers using regenerative agriculture practices to heal the land is they provide healthy food. I got a peak of this relocalization strategy in action when I spent a couple weeks volunteering on a permaculture farm. This is the kind of town that has a community cow for anyone to milk, veggie swaps to distribute surplus harvest, and lots of workshops that help people move towards self-sufficiency together.


But zooming back in on Growing Abundance, this program stood out to me as an example of providing multiple entryways for all types of people, even those who may not yet see the benefits of local food. They started with a backyard harvest program to prevent food waste and have now expanded to run a community garden and cater healthy school lunches, free community meals, and the café where I volunteered this day.  So if you can’t afford the bigger price tag that often comes with local food or you don’t have time to grow your own, you can still participate in Castlemaine’s movement to relocalize.