Aunt Maggie’s is a socially conscious greenie's dream

In the not too distant past, people grew their own fruit and veg, cooked everything from scratch and “paddock to plate” wasn’t a trend for foodies – it was just what you did. 

Wayne Ferrell, co-director of Aunt Maggie’s Organics, experienced this bygone phenomenon as a kid growing up in Western Australia and hankered for it as an adult. The result was Aunt Maggie’s three Melbourne wholefoods emporia. 

Although named with a nod to one of his own aunts, the story behind the store’s moniker is a little more complicated, because, you know, family politics. “I’d like to think everyone has an Aunt Maggie, although that’s not quite her name,” Ferrell admits. “I have a bunch of other aunties who would have been a little bit upset had I singled her out specifically, but she knows who she is, and it does start with an ‘M’.” 

Ferrell still vividly remembers the freshness and fun associated with gorging himself on homegrown goodies at said aunt’s property. “Although, at the time I never really thought about where it all came from, but of course it was either grown on the property or in the local town,” he says. However, despite that idyllic introduction to gastronomy, Ferrell’s approach toward food changed over time. “I feel like there was a space in which food personally and in general became something less real, less wholesome and less about enjoying the meal and the people that you were with.” Hence, Aunt Maggie’s was born of a desire to get back to basics. “A lot of what’s going on more recently is rekindling that spirit of sharing and simplicity, and we’re really just rediscovering how we used to do it and having a greater appreciation for why things were done that way.”

Of course, Aunt Maggie’s predicted the zeitgeist when it comes to these matters. “We started at a time when the necessity for doing things this way wasn’t so obvious,” Ferrell observes. “It’s only been in recent years that it’s become a little bit more in people’s consciousness to ask where food comes from, why it tastes so good or so bland, who benefits when you buy it, and who’s harmed in the process.”

That said, at its inception seven years ago (originally located in Hampton) Aunt Maggie’s was cast in the mould of a traditional health-food store hawking vitamins and supplements. However, coming from the camp whereby food is medicine, Ferrell wanted Aunt Maggie’s to be so much more. “I firmly believe what you eat has a direct impact on your health, wellbeing, energy levels, complexion, you name it,” Ferrell observes. “So, we wanted to be more about foods rather than supplements. Supplements have a place, especially where they’re focused on dealing with a specific area of concern, but they shouldn’t be the starting point.” 

Accordingly, fueled by Ferrell’s vision, Aunt Maggie’s has evolved into an entirely different beast, specialising in local organic and seasonal produce, 100% natural groceries, onsite cafés and juice bars where supplements form just one part of a nourishing whole. 

Sustainability also features large in the Aunt Maggie’s ethos. The stores haven’t used plastic bags in over five years, misshapen fruit and veggies are used in the juice bar, they compost like demons and there’s even a surcharge (albeit less than cost) for using paper bags. Plus, they’re actively discouraging food waste, which is important in a country where an estimated one in five bags of groceries gets chucked. 

“For instance, if you only want two eggs for a recipe, you can buy two eggs in our store. You don’t need to buy six or 12. Or say you want only 320 grams of almonds, then you can buy that – you don’t need to buy a packet. By encouraging bulk options where you can bring your own containers or just buy what you need helps reduce what gets thrown away.”

Aunt Maggie's branches are at 188 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 380 Lygon Street, Carlton and 72 Glenferrie Road in Malvern. You can find out more information about Aunt Maggie's via the emporia's website.