Feature: The roots of Restaurant VMF's allotment project
Restaurant VMF's commitment to sustainability and locally-sourced foods can be traced to a quaint 4,000 square metre site located a couple of miles from Villa Park.
The allotment plot, acquired by Villa around three years ago, seems a world away from turbo-charged Premier League life but it is important to the essence of the VMF project.
Since launching in October 2010, the VMF training restaurant has prided itself on using locally-sourced produce and giving opportunities to young people.
The root of this can be found at the allotment.
What started out as a venture to produce home-grown ingredients for VMF and the club's Villa Vitality scheme has grown into an exciting pilot project involving young people from St George's Community Hub in Newtown.
More than 1,000 bunches of herbs and fruit have recently been ordered from the allotment to service VMF and meet the demands of wholesale firm Interfruit, who supply many of the city's top eateries.
The plot is impeccably kept by local teenagers from St George's such as Declan Sullivan, 16, and Tyra Cooper, 18, who have been able to develop gardening and leadership skills as well as earning money.
Villa have also found employment opportunities for several youngsters on matchdays through the St George's project.
Bob Tyler, who recently retired as CEO of St George's Community Hub but continues to co-ordinate the allotment project, said: "Through the funding we received, we wanted to do something with a commercial edge.
"The partnership with Aston Villa has been fantastic.
"It is not just about gardening skills and earning a bit of money. It is about developing the whole person and the whole thing has been a massive success. It is a magical combination."
Declan, from Aston, has been working at the allotment for over a year and he can't stress enough the impact it has had on his life. "I started mixing with the wrong groups of people but my friend told me about this project," he said.
"Bob saw some potential in me and wanted me to keep coming and I've really enjoyed it.
"Since then I've become a peer tutor to the other young pupils. Now my dad has got a plot here so I come down to help him too.
"When you get invited down to Villa to have a meal you feel proud of yourself because you see the development and what your work has gone in to."
The end result for these youngsters is seeing an award-winning eatery utilise the produce they have helped nurture.
Take a short walk around the plot and you will see courgette plants, numerous varieties of runner beans, rhubarb, purple asparagus, coriander, strawberries, curly parsley, blackcurrants, raspberries, chilli peppers and much more.
Around two tonnes of potatoes have also been planted ready for the end of summer.
Indeed, demand is high for the Villa produce - not just from the club's own kitchens but from Interfruit too.
The Birmingham-based company have been big champions of the VMF allotment project, buying in produce from the plot to distribute to a host of top hotels and restaurants.
"Interfruit Catering have taken 1,200 bunches of high value culinary herbs to include curly parsley, continental parsley, sage, thyme, coriander, mint, chives and rosemary," said Villa's executive chef Peter Reed.
"They've also agreed to sponsor back the value of the herbs they have received daily into their Birch Road, Aston distribution hub - worth around £1200 to date.
"The produce has gone to all of Birmingham's top hotels and restaurants."
There is a nod to our famous stadium down at the allotment too, in the form of huge containers of up to 20,000 litres of water harvested from the Holte End's roof.
It is among the most-clear examples of Villa's commitment to sustainability.
No surprise, then, that Restaurant VMF boasts a Green Apple environmental award and bronze for green hospitality at the Football Hospitality Awards among its raft of top accolades.
Restaurant VMF is currently No.1 out of 800 restaurants in Birmingham on top reviews website Trip Advisor.
The restaurant, located in Directors in the Trinity Road Stand, is open on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as for Sunday lunch.
Why not come to Villa Park and check it out?
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