In Adelaide, a small urban farm links entrepreneurship with good food
The community food movement: a series about the emerging social movement around food…
IN ADELAIDE, a small city farm is bringing food production back to the city.
Wagtail, an urban micro-farm, produces fresh vegetables “… with an emphasis on delicious, colourful salad crops like tomatoes, salad mix, cucumbers, edible flowers, Asian greens and fresh herbs”, explained Nathanael Wiseman, a city farmer who, with Steve Hoepfner and Brett Young, started the enterprise.
“We started off selling direct to our local food co-op, but the scale of production meant we had to expand our market”, said Nathanael. “We currently sell at The Market Shed on Holland Street in the CBD on a fortnightly basis, as well as to friends and passers-by.”
Similar, but different
Wagtail Urban Farm is different to other city farms in that its main focus is growing fresh, local food for the local market. Most other city farms – I’m not talking about commercial market gardens here – offer a range of opportunities such as workshops, community gardening, permaculture design and other courses and, in the case of Melbourne’s CERES and Brisbane’s Northey Street City Farm, labour market training programs. They differ from community gardens in scale — most are much larger — in the range of services they offer and by creating training and employment opportunities.
Growing good food is just about all the backyard-size Wagtail — all 182m2 of it divided into 14m long beds — has space to do. Food production is important to CERES and Northey Street and the other city farms taking root around the country too. They grow and sell at their successful farmers’ markets and, at CERES, through CERES Fair Food home delivery service.
Making the old new again
Most city farms are on public land, however Wagtail Urban Farm is not. It was serendipity that led the Wagtail crew to their land, and that happned ” …after Steven Hoepfner heard about the land over a cup of tea with Sustainable Communities founder, Beth Mylius,” said Nathanael.
“She mentioned that a private land owner had contacted her, offering a half house-block size for use by interested community groups. Steven contacted the land owner and a deal was struck.”
That happened just as Nathanael was completing an internship at Allsun Farm in NSW and started looking for land in Adelaide. He met Steven and Brett Young, found the land, ” …and off we went!”, he said.
“It was the right idea and the right people at the right time. It was just an empty house block with a few weeds and a grapevine and a lot of tree stumps. So we did a bit of site preparation work, brought in truckloads of compost, and got growing.”
Steven knew both Brett and Nat before starting Wagtail. Nathanael and Steven had been involved in starting an urban agriculture interest group prior to Wagtail, and Brett and Steven had helped each other on landscaping jobs.
…It was all rather serendipitous…
“It was all rather serendipitous. We wanted to show that it is possible to produce an abundance of fresh, healthy food from the suburbs and to make it a commercially successful venture as well. We also want it to be an educational space and get more people growing and eating good food”.
But is that possible in the city with its fierce competition for access to public land and scarcity of private land for farming? Is Wagtail in any way a replicable model?
“That is our intention”, said Nathanael. “Being small scale allows people to replicate our model without a huge capital investment, yet it is also large enough to grow some serious quantities of food and to give people experience at growing and marketing produce.”
As well as soil, seeds and water, knowledge is a critical ingredient for any agricultural enterprise. Fortunately, there was plenty of that to be found.
“We use Eliot Coleman’s intensive vegetable production techniques which emphasise efficient, human-scaled tools and growing methods.
“There are specific tools such as wheel hoes, collinear and oscillating stirrup hoes, pinpoint seeders and broadforks, and techniques like precise close plantings, succession crop planning, and raised beds that enable such a small plot to be so productive. As long as these techniques and tools are followed, I think our model is definitely replicable.
…I think urban agriculture’s time has really come as a way of solving a whole basket of social and ecological issues in one integrated solution.…
“Books such as Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower and Allsun’s Growing Annual Vegetables DVD are invaluable to learning the methods that we use. It also doesn’t hurt to do an internship with someone who also uses these methods before going out on your own. You save a lot of trial and error that way.
“We also wanted it to be an educational space so that we could spread the word and get more people growing and eating good food. ”
I asked Nathanael whether small urban agriculture enterprises like Wagtail have the potential to popularise locally-grown food and urban agriculture in general.
“We like to think so”, he responded.
“We’ve been blown away by the public support and interest in Wagtail. There’s been school and council tours of the farm, open days, workshops, speaking gigs, magazine articles, a TV news story, a theatre project and more.
“I think urban agriculture’s time has really come as a way of solving a whole basket of social and ecological issues in one integrated solution.”
Like Wagtail, city farms create new opportunities for city people. Education formal and informal, food production, constructive recreation, gaining workplace skills and socialisation are just a few benefits they bring in making our cities places of opportunity. Importantly, though, they demonstrate to young people that farming can be cool and, for some, it can become a livelihood.
Find a city farm
Wagtail Urban Farm: https://wagtailurbanfarm.wordpress.com/about/
Hobart City Farm: http://hobartcityfarm.com
Perth City Farm: http://perthcityfarm.org.au
Northey Street City Farm: http://www.nscf.org.au
Canberra City Farm (in planning): http://www.urbanagriculture.org.au/canberra-city-farm/
Beelarong Community Farm: http://www.beelarong.org.au/Home/about-beelarong
Sydney City Farm (in planning): http://www.sydneycityfarm.org
Calmsley Hill City Farm (conventional agriculture theme park in south western Sydney): http://calmsleyhill.com.au
Allsun Farm: http://www.allsun.com.au/AllsunFarm.html
Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network (national networking, educational, advocacy organisation for community-based urban agriculture and food systems): http://communitygarden.org.au
Top photo source: Wagtail Urban Farm
In The Community Food Movement last edition: Soft, Squishy and Sweet http://pacific-edge.info/2015/11/the-community-food-movement-soft-squishy-and-sweet/