We love how passionate our suppliers and growers are, and Christchurch-based Matt Morris is as passionate as they come! Director of The Urban Monk, he takes a spiritual approach to creating delicious certified organic cultured vegetables. We love his fresh take on work and food almost as much as we love his fresh & crunchy products. We were lucky enough to ask him a few questions. Read on to find out why he started The Urban Monk, the story behind their striking packaging, and more!
We're currently selling The Urban Monk cultured vegetables from our Wellington City Store. Come and try them for yourself!
Matt Morris, The Urban Monk
1. What inspired you to start the Urban Monk?
So many things. I have always been passionate about organic, local food that nourishes. Then after the earthquakes, some really interesting conversations started in Christchurch about reinventing the local food system. As chair of Soil & Health Canterbury I got really involved in the development of the Food Resilience Network, and got really excited by the new, deliberate, reflexive food projects starting up – adding resilience to the whole system. It was obvious that food processing was a gap. I loved making sauerkraut… so…
2. Has eating good sustainable food always been important to you?
Definitely. When I was a first year uni student in 1993 I met [organics advocate] Bob Crowder in the supermarket I worked in. In 1996 I had an amazing time living in a sleepout in his garden, and he inspired me to get involved in the organic movement. I got a job coordinating the Organic Garden City Trust in 1999, and that drew me into Soil & Health. I then worked for the Canterbury Community Gardens Association and Canterbury Organic. It’s a beautiful thing when communities pull together to produce amazing, healthy, sustainable food. In my role as Sustainability Advocate at the University of Canterbury I was (and still am) responsible for our community gardens, and it is awesome to see people learning to reclaim their food sovereignty. I’ve also loved the journey I’ve been on since 2013 with the development of the Food Resilience Network – people are basically awesome. That’s what I’ve discovered. And everyone gets why growing good food is a good thing for our communities.
What a view! Just outside The Urban Monk Headquarters
3. What does an average day at the ‘office’ look like for you?
I have been very blessed to be able to start out in the iconic Waihi Bush Organic Farm, home of the famous flax oils. It’s my partner’s family farm. They don’t press the oil there anymore, and we discovered the food safe room in the building we were staying in down there as a result of the earthquakes.A day down there looks pretty much like chopping cabbages and carrots and daikons, and bottling them. I like doing this, of course, but it is also wonderful to take a break and head up to the house, graze on raspberries, plums, apples, pears, or whatever is happening in the old orchard, then wandering through spectacular, thousand year old totara forest. Touching the earth, visiting the Waihi stream and swimming in it in summer, or going to the back paddock at sunset to face the mountains. Sadly, for practicality, I will be shifting the HQ up to Christchurch in the middle of this year. It won’t be as scenic, but there is some exciting news about to be announced about this!
The Urban Monk's striking branding.
4. Your packaging is very striking. Who designed it, and what’s the story behind it?
Thanks. I get lots of positive feedback about the labels. I mean, people usually don’t use words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘stunning’ when describing a product label, but I do get this. Adam Fields designed the labels and the logo. Actually, the lettering is taken from an original woodcut I made (I’m also into printmaking). Adam and I talked a lot about the concepts and values, and he came up with this range of designs that were all Renaissance style, beautiful artworks. I just let him do his job. It’s a bit risky to include religious imagery, but what I like about it is that it speaks to the sacredness of food.
5. How do the values of simplicity, hospitality and sustainability shape the food you make?
These are monastic values, and I think there’s a lot we can learn from that sort of tradition. Simplicity is easy. The food I make just uses a few simple, high quality ingredients. I don’t use a starter culture even. I don’t add water to the cabbage-based krauts. Hospitality is really about the fact that as a household we take in lots of travellers, and we like to always have plenty of good quality, nourishing food in the fridge. So we are always in the kitchen making things – doing it commercially was just another step. It is also, more generally, about taking care of people. Making food that regenerates the body is exactly about that. Sustainability: I think really deeply about this. The world is in a perilous state. We have to take this seriously, and invest our energies in projects that restore the earth. That’s what we do as a business – we buy from businesses that we know and trust. We carrying an organic certification (we recently got OFNZ certification), which proves this, and we’re the only NZ kraut company that does this and sells an actually probiotic (unpasteurised) product.
6. The Urban Monk aims to ‘contribute to the developing local, sustainable food culture of post-quake Christchurch'. From your perspective, how has this culture changed since the quakes?
It has changed hugely through the development of the Food Resilience Network. This Network is made up of around 60 organisations with a combined membership of well over 11,000 people, who have agreed to work together to develop a vibrant, accessible, healthy local food system. I’m super excited about two things: the Otakaro Orchard project in the city, and our proposal for growing lots of food in the Christchurch Residential Red Zone – A Community Food Network.
7. What’s next on the horizon for The Urban Monk?
Ooh! There are so many things. I am keen on making a kasundi (Indian-spiced tomato sauce), secretly. And I am even making a non-food product: organic candles! I have some ideas for drinks, too. But, I have another set of products in development that I think will knock people’s socks off – but you’ll have to wait a little while!
Have you tried The Urban Monk's fermented vegetables? What did you think? We'd love to hear your take on Matt's approach or his eye-catching packaging! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org