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PacificEdge | September 22, 2014

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On the urban food trail to the far east

Russ Grayson

IT WAS LIKE TOURING AN INNER URBAN and Eastern Suburbs food trail… a tour of food initiatives starting at Waterloo and ending in the far reaches of Randwick.

The tour was one of three organised as part of October 2009’s Sydney Food Fairness Alliance’s (SFFA) Food Summit, Hungry For Change. While other tours headed off to the urban fringe farms and foodlands of the urban north west and south west, the other bus, kindly supplied by the City of Sydney, pointed its wheels southward and drove the short distance from the pickup point in Surry Hills, where Hungry For Change was held, to the Waterloo Estate community gardens.

Most diverse region

The idea behind the tour, organised by the SFFA’s Chantelle Doyle and led by Russ Grayson, was to expose visitors, some of whom were from interstate, to a range of different food initiatives in the inner urban-Eastern Suburbs region.

Collectively, the Inner West, inner urban and Eastern Suburbs are home to the most diverse range of food initiatives in the metropolitan area. Based on different models, the initiatives include those of the voluntary community sector, local government, small business and farming.

Journey to Marton

Parking on the streetside, the 22 passengers walked past Solander Community Garden, the second of the three to be built at Waterloo Estate thanks to the initiative of the UNSW’s Faculty of the Built Environment, South Sydney Council (since absorbed into City of Sydney), the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network and local people living on the Estate. A short traverse of the parkland brought the visitors to Marton Community Garden.

Marton Community Garden is one of three on the Watrloo Estate. The small but productive garden is farmed by residents of the public housing project that surrounds it.

Marton Community Garden is one of three on the Watrloo Estate. The small but productive garden is farmed by residents of the public housing project that surrounds it.

Marton is a small community garden that receives support from the City of Sydney through their Community Gardens and Volunteer Coordinator, Annie Walker, and the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust’s Community Greening Program for residents of social housing. Allotments are distributed to gardeners in which they produce mainly vegetables. The garden is fenced to prevent damage by the mindless and features a large mosaic artwork on the wall adjacent to the entrance. Prue Reuben, from the UNSW Faculty of the Built Environment, told the visitors that graffiti is less of a problem than might be imagined. One graffitist, however, did make an inscription on the artwork. It was small and unobtrusive, saying only that “I helped make this”.

Prue has many years association with the Waterloo Estate community gardens and she showed us the first of the community gardens to be built there — Cook Commuity Garden.

A circular garden occupying what was once a childrens’ playground (the playground has been moved adjancent to the garden), it is divided into pie-shaped segments made into allotments. A set of three new, raised allotments have just been planted in the area around the circular garden and a triple bay of enclosed compost bins was installed when the garden was built. All of the allotments are allocated and the garden has been popular since first opened in the 1990s.

Cook Community Garden was the first built on the Waterloo Estate. It is a small but well-used community garden producing vegetables and culinary herbs and providing active rcreation and learning to its gardeners.

Cook Community Garden was the first built on the Waterloo Estate. It is a small but well-used community garden producing vegetables and culinary herbs and providing active recreation and learning to its gardeners.

Visitors explore Cook Community Garden.

Visitors explore Cook Community Garden.

Soon, the travelers on the food trail would see another community garden, only this one would be much larger than those of the Waterloo Estate.

Darlington and places east

There are unsung heroes out there in the community and Auntie Beryl is one of them. A quiet woman with considerable achievement in the training of her people in the area, it was she who the food trail travelers next met.

Yaama  Dhiyaan Cafe and hospitality training centre is adjacent to the site of the weekly Eveleigh Farmers’ Market. There, Auntie Beryl’s initiative as one of the people who got the Aboriginal livelihood program started was evident in the class studying for future livelihoods in the food and restaurant industry. Auntie Beryl explained how Yaama  Dhiyaan operates after which we enjoyed coffee, conversation and biscuits.

The tour had hoped to drop in at Thoughtful Foods Co-op at UNSW, however we were now a little behind in time so we went on to our lunch stop at Randwick Organic Community Garden.

What a contrast to the smaller Marton Community Garden. Here was a garden spreading in concentric circles towards a distant fence, and here was Emma Daniell, horticulturist and garden educator, to tell the food trail tourers how this long-running garden works.

Randwick Organic Community Garden features both allotments and shared gardening areas. The garden is entirely rainfed (there is no connection to city water) and harvests water from the adjacent stable, storing it in a 23,000 litre water tank.

Randwick Organic Community Garden features both allotments and shared gardening areas. The garden is entirely rainfed (there is no connection to city water) and harvests water from the adjacent stable, storing it in a 23,000 litre water tank (the orange coloured object at rear left).

On reaching the Eastern Suburbs, the food trail tour had lunch amid the spaceousness of Randwick Organic Community Garden. The community garden is self-magaged and occupies land owned for the most part by Randwick City Council.

On reaching the Eastern Suburbs, the food trail tour had lunch amid the spaceousness of Randwick Organic Community Garden. The community garden is self-magaged and occupies land owned for the most part by Randwick City Council.

Unlike the Marton Community Garden, this garden is a voluntary community effort open to all (like all community gardens on Department of Housing land, Marton is open only to residents of the social housing that surrounds it). All of the allotments are now claimed. There are also shared garden areas. It’s a mixed garden of young fruit trees, herbs and — before the fox got them — chooks. The visitors saw the new, reinforced chook pen now in construction. There is a large water tank-come-art-work, thanks to the Arts in the Community Garden team, and a large pergola that provides table and chairs for meetings, socialising or just lounging about. The nursery and storage room form part of the structure.

Here we lunched on wraps, fruit and juice supplied by O-Organics, the caterer. Best of all, this was a no-waste lunch — no plastic film wrapping the wraps and the plastic trays in which the food was delivered and transported were reusable.

Medium density gardening in Maroubra

It was only a short hop over to Maroubra where, not far from the famous surfing beach, the tourers stopped at a block of apartments where they found a circular ‘mandala’ garden full of vegetables going to seed.

Kimberly, the woman behind the garden, explained how she and her partner maintain it and how it is the product of a Permaculture East ‘permablitz’, a mutual assistance project in which a group descends on a property and installs a food garden. Kimberly is also a graduate of Randwick City Council’s Living Smart course.

The vegetables were going to seed when the tour arrived at Kimberly's apartment vegetable garden. She plans to collect and dry the seed for replanting next season. The garden makes productive use of what was a lawn monoculture and showed what apartment dwellers could do to improve their property and supply a little food.

The vegetables were going to seed when the tour arrived at Kimberly’s apartment vegetable garden. She plans to collect and dry the seeds for replanting next season. The garden makes productive use of what was a lawn monoculture and showed what apartment dwellers could do to improve their property and supply a little food. Kimberly is at left, Peter Driscoll second from right.

Here, people met Peter Driscoll, another Permaculture East member who helped build Kimberley’s garden and who started TransitionSydney.

It was Kimberley who came up with the idea of making a food garden at the front of her apartment block. The garden was built through a Permaculture East permablitz.

Farming Sydney’s far east

It was a bit of a navigational adventure to finally find Gordon Ha’s market garden at Phillip Bay, at the far south of the Eastern Suburbs close to Botany Bay.

Gordon’s farm (download submission to retain the farms) is one of three that occupy the sandy flat at the far southern end of the Eastern Suburbs. Locally, these small but intensely managed and productive  family-owned farms are known as the ‘Chinese market gardens’ as they are all farmed by Asians and have been for some time. The are all that is left of the market garden industry in the Eastern Suburbs and, with three other market gardens over on the other side of the airport in Rockdale, are a reminder of how the city once fed itself.

This was the first visit to a market garden for some on the tour, however any romantic notions about the farming life must have been dispelled when Gordon told people that he works six and a half days a week in the market garden.

Responding to the visitors’ questions, Gordon said that he fertilises his garden beds with urea and turns vegetable residue — the part of the vegetable plan left after harvesting the edible part — into the soil where it breaks down into organic matter. He is not an organic market garden and he makes use of some pesticides.

For some of the food trail visitors at Gordon Ha's market garden at La Perouse, it was their first time on a farm of this type.

For some of the food trail visitors at Gordon Ha’s market garden at La Perouse, it was their first time on a farm of this type.

Gordon said that he does not supply the Flemington wholesale markets. His produce, mainly Asian vegetables, goes to local greengrocers. That’s truly local food.

Interesting that learning about farm life might have been, work soon called and Gordon had to excuse himself to go move his sprinklers — he pumps irrigation water from the creek adjacent to the property. He left the tourers to wander around the farm.

A full day and an instructive one

The inner and eastern food trail tour took people to regional food enterprises that ranged from the community based to livelihood training to commercial family farm. It was a fitting and instructive end to the SFFA’s Food Summit.

While there are other places the tour could have gone, the day introduced visitors to the diversity of approaches that, together, go some way to feeding the metropolis, or this part of it, anyway. Feedback offered by the tourers suggested that it was this diversity of enterprises that was the high point of the SFFA’s tour.

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