There’s a somewhat hidden gem out the back of the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill.
It’s probably ILT’s least-known asset, but one that plays a vital role across the organisation’s eateries.
That asset is its very own garden nursery which chefs tap into to help put together their culinary masterpieces.
Here are some numbers that may put things into perspective and raise some eyebrows.
The nursery last year produced 2500 lettuces, the year before it was 4500.
It produced 1800 bunches of parsley, 1000 bunches of spring onions, 350 broccoli/cauliflower, and 450 trays of garnishes.
Prior to a recent ILT board meeting board members were given a guided tour around the plot of land which features four tunnel houses, sheds, and garden plots.
ILT board members were given a tour around its very own nursery at Ascot Park.
Other examples of what is grown are lemon grass, kaffir line, fennel bulb, celery, bok choi, coriander, kale, dozens of cherry tomato, pepper and chilli plants.
Basically, if the chefs want it the gardeners will have a crack at growing it.
ILT chief executive Chris Ramsay says running its own nursery to supply its hospitality businesses isn’t a financial decision.
There is a clear message from the public that they want to see local produce in local eateries.
Ramsay points out you can’t get much more local than a plot of land out the back of the Ascot Park Hotel prepared by their own gardening team.
“It’s literally pasture to plate.”
The nursery began operating over a decade ago, but in recent years it has been extended.
“Where it was one tunnel house it is now four. It’s to cover all ranges, herbs, and through spring we’ll start planting potatoes.
“When you’re having your new potatoes at the Ascot on Christmas Day, they’ve literally come from just over the fence.”
The most recent tunnel house was added in 2021. It has included double wrapping, LED’s, so vegetables can be grown during winter.
They put together their own compost mix and experiment with different techniques.
Eggshells are put on the gardens in a quest to help keep the bugs off the produce.
At the peak during the summer, there can be an oversupply of produce. When that does arise Ramsay says they give what is not required away, most notably to rest homes.
“We don’t sell the stuff it’s just literally for our own consumption.”
The ILT nursery was established largely before the ever-growing expectations of sustainability within businesses.
The transport requirements are almost nil when carting the produce to ILT’s various establishments. In the case of Ascot Park Hotel, its staff can simply jump over a fence to get it.
“It’s probably one of those hidden gems that we talk about but not many people know about,” Ramsay says.
The nursery also provides ILT’s gardeners, who also look after the grounds at various establishments, with additional work throughout the week.
“The counterargument to growing it yourself is the cost of labour and the cost of materials, but it is a part of the overall operation rather than the sole purpose,” Ramsay says.
Because the gardeners are often on-site at establishments looking after their landscaping, they regularly talk to chefs about what ingredients they may want.