Growing up on a fruit farm in regional Victoria, Australia, I felt a closeness to nature at a very young age. My childhood is full of memories like climbing trees, swimming in the channel, playing hide and seek amongst empty fruit bins and riding bikes with my cousins until sunset.
That all changed when I hit my teen years. All I dreamt about was big cities, new clothes and exotic travels. As I got older and made the decision to eat a whole-food, vegan diet in 2013, I realised something was instilled in me that I would never let go of – a desire for space, realness and peace that only a connection to nature provides.
A couple of years later in 2015, I spent two months in Europe exploring the Mediterranean. Part of this included a visit to the country where my grandparents were born - Albania. I loved going into the remote villages and seeing how people lived, often as their families had done for decades. I was fascinated by their simple way of living, and loved how they utilised every spare inch of space they had to grow their own food.
What struck me most was that while a lot of people barely had a roof over their heads, they were nearly always smiling and laughing and seemed genuinely happy. In fact, they were also generally strong and in good shape – even in their 70s and 80s! All this was despite their lack of material possessions, challenging life circumstances and limited access to modern medicine.
The greatest irony hit me when I returned home to Australia.
I saw people everywhere with relative riches and one of the best health systems in the world, yet suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, obesity and a myriad of other health conditions. We certainly didn’t seem to be as happy as the ‘villagers’ I had just visited.
I was so intrigued by this and remembered a book I had read a year or so earlier called The Blue Zones. Written by Dan Buettner, the book reveals lessons for living longer from the groups of people across the world that live the longest. While factors such as regular exercise, strong social and family bonds and enjoying life’s simple pleasures all played a role in the longevity of such a diverse range of people, a distinguishing reason was their common preference for a mostly plant-based diet. Almost all food consumed by these groups is fresh, seasonal and locally grown, a high proportion of their diet is made up of healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and vegetables), with small intakes of fresh fish, but minimal meat or eggs.
This really cemented my belief in eating a garden-driven diet, because then whatever you’re eating is in season and local. I think it is really important to know where your food comes from. Once you experience watching something grow from a seed into a piece of food, you hold it in higher regard - you won’t just discard it or let it rot in the fridge.
And so, it was decided. Shortly after returning home from Europe I began the formal process of creating a plant-based food business called The Sweet Meadow, that would serve up food and drinks that appeal to the growing market of health-conscious individuals.
The biggest catalyst for taking the plunge was when I realised my passion for the vision outweighed the fear I was feeling.
Put simply, I was 'starving' in a creative sense and I knew the idea wouldn't go away until I went for it.
Director Stephen Spielberg talks about how the films he makes choose him and how they haunt him until he finally makes them. That's exactly how I felt about The Sweet Meadow.
I hope the time you spend at my cafe makes your day a little bit sweeter.
We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”
-JONAH LEHER, THE OBSERVER