Common Ground Project: Why this community café and farm in Melbourne's outskirts is worth the trip
If Melbourne's café culture and sensational dining scene has you hooked, Common Ground Project will shake things up enough to get you driving an hour and a half towards the coast during your next visit. The brand-new concept terms itself as a holistic hospitality approach, rolling the likes of a café, farm, and social enterprise into an impressive oasis. Located in Freshwater Creek south-west of Melbourne, Common Ground Project is close enough to popular beachfront towns along the Bellarine Peninsula — Torquay, Ocean Grove, and Point Lonsdale, to name a few — for you to make a pit-stop while you're there.
Sitting on four acres of rural farmland, Common Ground Project is a relaxing escape off the highway. A bright red tractor is parked out front at the entrance, often with a kid clambering on it for a picture. Waltz in and the café space is decidedly industrial and spacious, with a corrugated iron ceiling, wooden floors, and exposed light bulbs. Pop out the back and you'll find sun-seeking diners, children running around the swing set and slide, and rows of raised vegetable beds. All the food is made with farm-fresh produce, grown bio-dynamically on the property or sourced from around the region, while its founders believe in a minimal-waste philosophy.
Melbourne's Mulberry Group is behind Common Ground Project, and for café insiders — yes, the same people that opened the city's must-visit cafes Higher Ground, Top Paddock, and The Kettle Black. But unlike its previous ventures, the social enterprise heart of the business is what sets Common Ground Project apart, where the aim is to improve chefs' mental health by putting them in touch with the land. Think of it as a wellness retreat for chefs — for a $230 weekly fee, chefs start the day with a meditation session, followed by a team breakfast, and spend time working and harvesting on the farm. In return, they get a weekly box of produce sent to their respective restaurants.
For the rest of us foodies, rest assured that the coffee is excellent and the fare is top-notch. There's a smorgasbord of café staples, such as a pulled pork and hash brown benedict, breakfast gnocchi, and the Mulberry Group's renowned giant hotcake. Health buffs will salivate over their wellness bowls, a surprisingly delicious combination of farm greens, house sauerkraut, turmeric cashew cream, cauliflower rice, and roasted sweet potatoes. And if you're after something smaller, there are freshly-baked sausage rolls, pies, muffins, and sandwiches to pick from. Fill up then head down to the beach — we guarantee your day trip will be well worth it.