Celebrating Chippendale’s local food culture
ONE DAY IT WAS A DINGY LANE taking the curious from Broadway to Chippendale. Next day it was a food fair, offering the curious a glimpse of the emerging local food culture that is starting to bloom in Sydney.
Opinion was offered that the Chippendale Food for the Future Fair — this October’s was the second time it has been held — is more a celebration of community-based food culture than, for example, the Dank Street Festival over in Alexandria, which has more of a ‘foodie’ culture feel with restaurants and more upmarket food enterprises.
So, what was there, crammed into that narrow lane between those old terrace houses and turn of the Twentieth Century commercial buildings?
A wealth of edible ideas… and, of course, food
First, there was Clover Moore, Sydney’s Lord Mayor who, just as she had done a couple days before at the Sydney Food Fairness Alliances Hungry For Change Food Summit, opened the event. Clover is becoming more and more associated with food events and initiatives in the City of Sydney and is helping to draw public attention to the emerging urban food culture.
There was Michael Champion, an organic grower from the Mangrove Mountain area just to the north of Sydney, with an array of fresh veges and herbs. Michael’s is a practical example of locally produced, low food miles foods feeding the city.
Michael was not the only local farmer. The Muscat family Farm is located near Pitt Town and at Schofields, not far to the north west of Sydney where the soils are fertile and the farming intensive in management. This area is part of the city’s foodbowl, the region that supplies the metropolis with much of its fresh, perishable vegetable foods.
The Muscat family is found at a number of Sydney region farmers’ markets, including the weekly, Saturday morning Farmers’ Market at Eveleigh. All of their produce is grown in soil rather than hydroponically because, they claim, soil-grown vegetables taste better. They also source some of what they sell from other growers in the region.
Gena Karpf, from Sweetness The Patisserie, explained how she uses organic and local product in her cooking — when these are available. Hers was a reality check on the move towards local and organic in which intention is ahead of supply. While there might be growing demand for products meeting these criteria, it can be difficult sourcing ingredients to make them. The ideology of local and organic is certainly growing, however it takes time for food producers to develop crops and ingredients to cater to it. Patience by eaters is needed.
Further down the lane was Barry, who is also a member of the Alternative Technology Association and who was demonstrating a couple of those technologies — tanks for rainwater storage, wormfarms for turning kitchen wastes into fertiliser and what looks like a workable, raised planter suitable for container gardening on balconies for the growing of vegetables and herbs.
compost + chicken manure + mulch + seedlings + water = food
The recycled plastic containers, each one metre in length, 500mm in width and 700mm deep, are large enough to accommodate vegetable root growth and there are holes in the bottom that drain water into a tray. An outlet allows the water to be drained into a watering can and reused. Nearby, a couple demonstrated the economy version of a container garden by showing how compost + chicken manure + mulch + seedlings + water is the sequence to turn a foam fruit box into a vegetable garden.
Hanging on a wall was another type of garden — a vertical garden planted to young lettuce and other leafy greens. This has been developed by Darren Craig from Delightfully Fresh Organics — he also had a stall covered in vegetable and herb seedlings — and consists of a thick, wooly matrix enclosed in netting much like that used to package fruit. The seedlings are implanted into the matrix and water fed in from the top, fertiliser being added as needed. As a woman said on viewing the vertical garden, the liquid drained from a home worm farm could be added to the irrigation water and trickled through the matrix.
While coffee and tasty foods catered for the physically hungry, Glebe booksellers, Florilegium, catered for those with an intellectual hunger. Florilegium specialises in botanical titles as well as landscaping, horticulture and food growing books. A interesting find was Masanobu Fukuoka’s classic on sustainable, organic farming, The One Straw Revolution, now back in print in paperback.
There was music and talks, including one on the fate of bees, and there was Diane walking the alley selling copies of Sprout, a new quarterly on the Sydney food scene. The creation of Diane Jardine and Kate Marshall, the first edition carries stories on Sydney’ urban fringe market garden industry an its importance to urban food security, the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, the square metre salad garden, planting guide and recipes, seed saving, the Randwick Organic Community Garden and more.
Food goes co-operative in the lane
The Chippendale Food air was notable for more than turning a dingy alley into a festive food site, and the sign of that was a cavernlike opening in the brickwork of the old facade that houses The Chippendale Fresh Food Co-op, a new, member operated local food initiative just opening for business. With its members sporting T-shirts proudly proclaiming The Co-op in big, black grunge lettering, it was obvious that something new was afoot.
The Co-op will trade from its cave-like premises Thursday to Saturday and — who knows? — maybe one day you will be able to stop by and socialise over a cappuccino at the maybe-to-be rear courtyard as you collect your week’s fresh food. One of the Co-Opers explained how he would like to make a vegetable garden out there behind the Co-op.
A day of walking, talking eating
We had started down that alley-come-festival where it feeds onto Broadway a mere few metres from Railway Square. After stopping to talk to people we know, to stallholders, to the Co-op folk and others, by the time we had returned to our starting point a full three hours had gone by. That’s what happens at these festivals. They offer a conviviality and a friendliness that is so enjoyable that it eats up time.
When it comes to community-based, small business and locally-farmed food, the Chippendale Food for the Future Fair 2009 was a festival of the possible that shows for certain that a local food culture based on community enterprise is just as valid and certainly more widely accessible as that of the upmarket, restaurant based food culture with celebrity chefs and foods that leave little change in your pocket. This is food of the people, by the people, for the people (to repurpose Jefferson) and it is smart, modern and relevant to the city.