GROWING A FUTURE urban farming in the heart of the city
A NEIGHBOURHOOD FARM IN THE HEART OF SYDNEY’S BUSTLING INNER WEST HAS BIG EXPANSION PLANS TO GROW VEGIES FOR SALE NEAR YOU.
Emma Bowen, 34, is the green-thumbed force behind Pocket City Farms in Camperdown, Sydney. Together with her partner, Michael, she has created an organic urban farm that helps people connect with food, nature and the seasons. As well as providing fresh produce for the local residents, the farm is a community hub and offers weekly workshops for adults and kids, volunteer sessions and even yoga classes.
HOW DID THE IDEA FOR POCKET CITY FARMS COME ABOUT? We realised we were disconnected from our food sources and wanted to do something about it. I have a background in business and sustainability and my partner, Michael, was eager to get outdoors and learn to farm.
We had visited Brooklyn Grange, an organisation that farms rooftops and builds green spaces in the US, which was very inspiring. One of our co-founders, Karen Erdos, is an architect with an interest in sustainable design, and we picked up a few other board members.
Six years ago Michael quit his job and worked on organic farms around Sydney, learning as much as he could, while I began to study permaculture. Then three years ago we came across the disused bowling club in Camperdown and, with the help of funding from Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL, we started Pocket City Farms.
HOW DOES IT WORK? We have 1200m2 of market gardens at Camperdown Commons and everything is produced organically. We grow vegies, herbs and salad greens, and we have some young fruit trees. We sell our produce to the community, co-ops and restaurants, and we have a farm stall here on Saturday mornings.
Michael manages the farm in terms of growing the produce, while I focus on community and education. We run workshops and weekly volunteer sessions, where about a dozen locals help us with planting, weeding and harvesting – whatever needs to be done.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ‘LITTLE FARMERS’ PROGRAM. We’ve always run a lot of workshops for adults, so we’re excited to have a new offering for children.
Every second Sunday we run a workshop where we do a farm tour with a weekly topic, which could be on anything from beneficial flowers to bugs. We get our hands dirty by doing some activities with the kids, then we pick some produce and make and eat a simple dish like salad or pesto.
We also run after-school sessions every Wednesday, where kids get to learn new farming and gardening skills such as making seed balls or composting. >
PEOPLE WHO STUMBLE ACROSS US ARE VERY SURPRISED TO FIND A FARM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY!
WHAT HAS THE FEEDBACK BEEN LIKE? We get a lot of really lovely feedback. People who live in the area are very excited to have the farm nearby. And people who stumble across us are very surprised to find a farm in the middle of the city! The farm helps make connections people might not have known they wanted or needed. There are amazing community gardens around the city, but what we do takes it to the next level.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST HURDLES YOU’VE FACED? Finding space – that’s why it took so long to get up and running. Finding ground-level space that’s affordable, not marked for development and doesn’t have contaminated soil is not easy. We were also looking at rooftop spaces but the problem was trying to convince building managers, who were nervous about having a tonne of dirt dropped on their roof.
We’re also working to make urban farming financially viable. It comes down to running workshops and having diverse activities and a few different income streams.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT? Creating a sense of community. The big aim of farming in the city is to connect people and get them interacting with food production. Our volunteer sessions have been really popular; there are often more people than we can cater for.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR COMMUNITY? It’s important to find work that makes you feel you’re giving back and contributing to the world in a positive way. We’re now recognising the mistakes we’ve made in previous generations. But the best thing is just to do something positive.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE? We have a great greenhouse so we’re looking into growing micro greens this year. We’re always looking at future spaces, too; the idea is to build more of these farms around Sydney – that’s the long game.
We’re extending our education and looking at doing free talks on topics such as food waste and sustainability. We’re also looking at extending our farm stalls to bring in goods from other producers. #
“THE BIG AIM OF FARMING IN THE CITY IS TO CONNECT PEOPLE AND GET THEM INTERACTING WITH FOOD PRODUCTION… IT’S IMPORTANT TO FIND WORK THAT MAKES YOU FEEL YOU’RE CONTRIBUTING TO THE WORLD.