It started, as a lot of good ideas do, over a bottle of wine. Actually it started over 600 bottles.
The wine led Justin Westhoff and his mate to a food truck. The food truck led to building children's gardens, the gardens led to feeding the homeless, feeding the homeless led to working out how to house them, too. He has a big heart, Justin Westhoff, and even bigger plans.
Westhoff, the Port Adelaide forward with the quiet demeanor and the hipster beard, has a world view that owes more to hippie than hipster.
Westhoff grew up in the Barossa Valley. On his grandmothers grain and sheep farm, helearned the lessons of eating what you grow, and knowing the value of good food. He is now living that philosophy.
This story started a few years ago when his mate Scott Rogasch's parents offered the paira chance to make their own wine. Scotts parents own a 20-acre vineyard in the Barossa and sell the fruit to local wineries. But everyone in the Barossa wants to make their own wine, so Scott's parents carved off four rows of vines for the boys.
They hand-picked about two tonnes of grapes themselves. Another friend, Tim Dolan, is a winemaker. He made the wine for them, 600 bottles of shiraz.
Port plays Richmond on Friday night and by coincidence, Westhoff could find himself opposed by defender Dylan Grimes. Grimes owns a small Mount Macedon winery and produces a fine pinot.
In the Barossa, where there is a glut of options, Westhoff and his mate knew they needed a selling point.
"We decided to make it a vegan wine. Im not vegan but coming from the Barossa, everything is fine food, fine wine,” Westhoff said.
Westhoff's wine, labeled Forage Supply Co, does not have an added clarifying agent. The vegan thing was their difference, but bottling wine and selling it are two different things.
“We tried to think, 'What is the best way to get our name out there?' We thought, what comes with wine is food, so we probably stupidly decided to buy a little caravan and do a little food truck around the Barossa Valley,” he said.
They found and bought a caravan for sale on the side of the road, figuring it would be simple enough to cut a serving hole in the side, paint it and set to work. A builder mate took a look at the van and just shook his head. It was no small job.
“We had vegan wine, so we wanted to do entirely plant-based food," Westhoff said. "Theres a bit of a pigeon hole for yourself as vegan and the stereotypes around that, even though I wasnt vegan by any stretch, but we wanted to challenge those stereotypes.
"Our take is about having the smallest impact on the environment, but the biggest impact on the community.”
Another friend who is a chef in the Barossa designed the menu: nachos with cashew nuts, cheese, burgers made of jack fruit.
I dont want my kids growing up thinking all my fruit and veg comes from the supermarket.
“We thought of how we could make this cool and not just hippies eating salads and the whole stereotype," he said. Now they sell at markets, festivals and parties.
Westhoff is not a small man and the roof of his food van is not very high, but he squeezes in and helps cook and sell. He is a big man in a small town in Adelaide, but he has a quiet disposition so while he might be recognisable, he does not trade on it. He tends to blend in.
The food van gave rise to a question about how to source food more sustainably. The vineyard abuts a primary school, and an idea came to them.
They crowdfunded $18,000 and built their first school vegie garden. Now the school kids grow food for their own canteen, and the food van buys produce there. Westhoff and his friends return to the school to work with the kids in the garden and take a celebrity chef with them to show the kids – and parents – how to make healthy food.
That one school garden has now become three. Port Adelaide footy club has funded another garden and buys produce from their players' kitchen. The schoolkids are chuffed to grow food in the Port garden for the players.
The school garden generates more food than the van can use, so Westhoff parlayed that into another interest. As an ambassador for a homeless shelter in Adelaide, he takes excess produce there to cook for the homeless.
“The stereotype of someone homeless is an alcoholic, but through our caravan we have had an opportunity to hire 20 of their clients who come through the pathway and it opens your eyes up to these guys," he said.
"Theres managers of companies, high-up successful business people, teachers, all sorts who find themselves in a situation. Whether its because of a marriage break-up or a mental disorder, they find themselves not having a place to stay and then it can spiral.”
The experience at the shelter led him to wonder how he might not only feed but house the homeless.
“We are starting up this sister company doing temporary housing for the homeless, so we are working through things with that now. Its kind of modular, temporary relief housing,” he said.
Westhoffs mum is a banker, his dad was a fitter and turner who owns a maintenance company. His family are not daisy chain-making hippies, but his country upbringing teased out an environmental and social conscience.
“I am in a position where I have time to give back to the community and show awareness to different aspect to social … not injustice, but people less privy to opportunities I have had,” he said.
“My grandmother lived on the farm, she grew all the fruit and veg on the farm, and then from that I have grown up through that, the best way to be healthy and exercise is to educate yourself on what is healthy.
“I dont want my kids growing up thinking all my fruit and veg comes from the supermarket. I want to have them outside and growing their own thing.”
Michael Gleeson is a senior AFL football writer and Fairfax Media's athletics writer. He also covers tennis, cricket and other sports. He won the AFL Players Association Grant Hattam Trophy for excellence in journalism for the second time in 2014 and was a finalist in the 2014 Quill Awards for best sports feature writer. He was also a finalist in the 2014 Australian Sports Commission awards for his work on Boots for Kids. He is a winner of the AFL Media Association award for best news reporter and a two-time winner of Cricket Victorias cricket writer of the year award. Michael has covered multiple Olympics, Commonwealth Games and world championships and 15 seasons of AFL, He has also written seven books – five sports books and two true crime books.
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