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Why urban agriculture is taking root

Catherine Carter

As someone who lives in an apartment, I’m always fascinated by what people can grow on their balconies.

I have friends who have heirloom tomatoes in terracotta pots, bounteous herb gardens and espaliered pears on trellises.

Other green-thumbed friends have created conservatories with vertical gardens made from mason jars, boast beautiful succulents lining the window sills and even grow mushrooms and potatoes in the bottom of the pantry.

Greenery may be part of the Instagram zeitgeist, but there’s nothing new about having a peace lily or aspidistra in the bathroom. What is new, however, is the densification of our cities. As our cities grow up, we’ll need to find more creative ways to bring nature and greenery into our lives, and perhaps even to farm our own food.

‘Urban agriculture’ is about using local land to meet the food needs of people in cities. By growing food where we live, we reduce the ‘food miles’ – and associated carbon emissions – that accrue when we must transport our food from far-flung farms.

But there are a host of other benefits. People in the know often talk about how urban farming addresses a host of community concerns, from food security and nutrition, to reducing the heat island effect.

Urban farmers take neglected spaces, from spare plots to rooftops, to grow fresh organic produce. Pocket farms provide much-needed green space, as well as a place to sink your feet in the soil.

Urban agriculture in inner city environments can open new possibilities and a range of experimental gardening techniques, from vertical herb gardens to rooftop beehives. Urban beekeeping, for instance, can help us address declining bee populations by creating ‘corridors’ for bees to thrive and pollinate. And there’s also the benefit of the honey too.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about urban farming is not about its produce, but its people.

We’ve got one of the best examples of collective urban farming right here in the nation’s capital. The Canberra City Farm started with some successful displays at Floriade in 2013 and 2014, and then a small demonstration site in Turner. In 2015, the Canberra City Farm was granted a 10-year license to use a two-hectare site on Dairy Road in Fyshwick.

Canberra City Farm Workshop

Canberra City Farm Workshop

Over winter, the Canberra City Farm team began establishing a large garden and education centre. There are fruit trees, beehives and vegetables, and a pizza oven has been constructed.

The volunteer team plans to show Canberrans how they can live more sustainably with practical demonstrations of food production on balconies, courtyards, backyards and market gardens.

The best thing about Canberra City Farm – and about urban farming in general – is that it “brings people together by connecting people with their food and the environment, which are both essential for life,” says Jodie Pipkorn, Vice President of Canberra City Farm Committee.

And you don’t need to be an expert, Jodie says, because “you learn by doing”.

Jodie Pipkorn

Jodie Pipkorn

“We have regular weekly working bees, monthly gatherings with lots of food sharing, propagation and preserving groups, regular workshops and lots of people who are willing to share their knowledge with others.”

So what knowledge can Jodie share? Her top tips for people who have caught the horticultural bug are simple: buy or make good soil and compost; create a wicking bed, or self-watering pot system, on your balcony; and get seedlings from the Canberra City Farm.

The Canberra City Farm is a place to gather, learn and grow. It’s a place where the community can come together to share knowledge and share a meal.

Any garden bed, balcony, wall or rooftop can be used to grow food, but it’s when we work together that we get to build a sense of community.


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author

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