OF all the wonderful attractions in Bendigo - and there are many - PepperGreen Farm, a social enterprise of Access Australia Group, takes the prize for sheer goodness.
The not-for-profit business scheme trains and employs people living with a disability or disadvantage, who get to work in areas including micro-business, horticulture, retail, tourism, hospitality and creative manufacturing.
Visitors to the two-hectare tourist and employment precinct can enjoy a meal prepared from the herb and vegetable garden, pick their own herbicide- and pesticide-free vegies to take home and choose from a range of relishes and condiments as well as honey, fresh from the farm's own beehives in the retail space.
The site, protected under Heritage Victoria, is the site of original Chinese market gardens and home to the oldest Chinese kiln outside Asia.
Originally established as a brickworks in 1859, the kiln is believed to have been built by Chinese settlers to produce pottery when they were unable to find gold.
PepperGreen Farm is a hive of activity. Staff, supported employees and volunteers care for and maintain the gardens and all proceeds from the sale of produce go back into the upkeep of the garden and further employment opportunities.
The farm is committed to using environmentally responsible methods with a garden-to-plate-to-garden ethos, and has a range of recycling and waste reduction/reuse strategies in place. The plentiful produce is well-nourished by the resident chooks, who occupy the grandly-named Poultry Play Pen.
Away from the serenity of the garden, the large machinery shed is humming as the farm's industrious supported employees make a range of products to order such as wicking beds, plant stands, bug houses, upcycled furniture, outdoor seating, garden planters, book shelves and nesting boxes for birds and marsupials.
You can bring your car to be washed while you enjoy lunch and a leisurely stroll through the bower of kiwifruit and along the landscaped paths between beds of cultivated herbs and vegetables.
When you're ready to leave, you can buy an armful of fresh flowers or fill your car boot with Wood4Good - sustainably sourced, dried and ready to burn in your fireplace or pizza oven.
You can even order from an extensive range of fresh or frozen $10 meals such as corned beef with vegies and lamb shanks in red wine sauce, or stock up the freezer with 11 meals for $99.
IF YOU GO...
Onsite parking is available or you can catch the Bendigo tram or public bus, which have stops just outside the farm entrance at 44 Thunder Street, North Bendigo. The farm is open Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm.
For more information click here.
Sue Preston was a guest of Bendigo Regional Tourism.