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June 21, 2022

The Specials | Buddha Browett from Los Perros

Buddha Browett owns the Los Perros urban farm and market garden in Malmö. His customers include acclaimed local restaurants such as Lyran, Julie and Västergatan.
June 21, 2022

The Specials is an ongoing series of interviews with the unsung heroes of hospitality — from managers, waiters and sommeliers to dishwashers, farmers and foragers.

Buddha Browett owns the Los Perros urban farm and market garden in Malmö. His customers include acclaimed local restaurants such as Lyran, Julie and Västergatan.

My first job was in a kitchen. I grew up in the suburbs of Sydney and decided to become a chef when I was 18. I worked in all sorts of different restaurants from fine dining to ma-and-pa cafes.

I once ran a Catalan culinary school. In 2006, I moved to Barcelona and ended up offering bike tours of the city. I really got into Catalan culture and history and started trying to incorporate food into the tours. Eventually I started a cookery school in a friend's mezcaleria. By the end of the night, everyone was just drinking mezcal.

I moved to Malmö in 2013. I met my former partner in Barcelona and she wanted to return to Sweden. One of the first things we did was get an allotment. After living in Barcelona, we were like, "It's so green in Sweden, it’s crazy.” We got an allotment and started growing everything.

If you’ve got a mint plant on your window sill — that’s urban farming. It means the mint didn't need to be grown in Spain, shipped to the Nordics, and driven to your supermarket. You save one plant from going to Scandinavia, and if 50 people do that, then maybe the truck doesn't get driven, which means that maybe that section of the greenhouse doesn’t get planted, and so on.

Tomatoes are my Kryptonite since moving to Scandinavia. Every single year I get heartbroken by them. I grew up growing tomatoes and ever since moving to Sweden, it’s like they’re almost right …. almost ripe … almost ripe … and then they die. But zucchinis? We’re swimming in them.

My lightbulb moment came in an Irish pub. I was working in the kitchen and was like, “Wait a second, where does this salad come from? Where are these parsnips coming from? Where is this tomato coming from? Why are we importing all this loose leaf salad from Spain and it’s not even organic?” There was no logic to it. Someone needed to do something about this — and after a while I realised, wait a second, maybe that someone is me.

We started the Los Perros urban farm in 2014. At first, we rented land next to our allotment. At that stage, my dream was simply to grow all the ingredients to make my own chilli sauce. You don't have the heat in Scandinavia, but you do have the sun, which means you can grow things in a greenhouse. Since moving here, I’ve been growing like the hottest chilies in the world.

We weren’t allowed to sell produce at the Malmö farmer's market. It was only for farmers from outside Malmo. We were the first commercial urban farmers in Sweden and were too local. So we launched the Malmö chapter of REKO-ring — a Finnish concept that’s a cross between a car boot sale, a farmer's market and speed dating. It uses Facebook to connect farmers and buyers. It’s gone bananas. There are now over 50 REKO-rings in the Skåne region alone.

Our customers include some of Malmö’s best restaurants. As a chef, I know what I want, so my thinking was I’d go to restaurants and they’d want what I was selling. But urban farms don’t really exist in Sweden, so it took a while for restaurants to understand. But Jörgen Lloyd from Lyran got it straightaway. He was like, “I'm in. It makes perfect sense. Of course I’m in.” We got the same response from Olle Ahnberg at Västergatan.

There's so much more respect for where our food comes from. I was like, “Okay, so I need to bring you these ingredients each week.” But they were like, “No, we’ll adapt to you. You bring us what you have and we’ll make it work from there.” Martin Sjöstrand from Julie said, “If you have three zucchinis, bring us three zucchinis and we’ll make a dish with three zucchinis until they're out. And then we’ll use the next thing you have.” All the chefs we deal with understand that and it’s the most beautiful thing.

I always say, "We don’t grow food, we build soil.” We moved the farm to its current site in 2018. When you start an urban farm again, it's like, “Where's the wind? Where’s the sun? Are there any insects?” We used to be in the infamous Rosengard neighbourhood. Now we’re right next to Ikea’s Hubhult office. It’s developing fast. When we first started, there was Ikea and nothing else. Within like two years, we're going to be in the middle of the city.

Storm Malik destroyed everything. We rebuilt our greenhouse last year, putting in support beams and cementing the whole thing in the ground. But Storm Malik was insane — wind speeds of 38 metres a second, hurricane force. It pulled the cement from the ground and threw it in one direction and our washing station 30, 40 metres in the opposite direction. It was like a bad version of the film Twister and I'm just happy that no one died.

The community response was insanely beautiful. I posted a photo on social media and basically said: “This is fucked. I don't know what to do. Help. ”So many people contacted us offering to help or donate to our crowdfunding campaign. I’ve experienced such intense heartbreak and such intense love, I don't think I've ever cried as much in my life.

The restaurants have been amazing too. We’re such a big part of their day-to-day existence, they've all been posting about what happened to us on social media and saying, “This food comes from this farm and now they need your help.”

As told to Superb. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and concision.

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