An oasis in the city

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Acre at Camperdown Commons

Many years ago, in another life, I resided in inner-city Camperdown in Sydney. It was a very urban setting, with few gardens and not a lot of green open space apart from a few sports ovals. The words 'organic' and 'sustainable' had little meaning in that era. Last week, I returned there to visit a place that is putting gardening at centre-stage of a wonderful venture aimed at sustainable growing and consumption of food, with minimal food wastage. Acre, at Camperdown Commons, is a new eatery, but not just any trendy new eatery. The owners have partnered with Pocket City Farms - a not-for-profit enterprise that aims to turn neglected spaces in our city into urban farms to grow fresh organic produce for the city's residents - to create an on-site market garden.

One of the large vegetable gardens at Camperdown Commons

The place has been built on the site of an old bowling green in Camperdown Park in Mallett Street, a stone's throw away from my old home. Unlike some other places where a few token pots of parsley comprise the nod to being 'green', the kitchen gardens here are seriously big, with long, regimented rows of vegetables and herbs irrigated by drip lines. Current crops include lettuces, silverbeet, kale, fennel, onions, rocket and oriental greens, all flourishing and looking incredibly healthy. Skilled, experienced market gardeners, all with a grounding in permaculture principles, tend to the crops. The garden aims to provide about 20 to 30% of the vegetables and herbs used in the restaurant. The balance of the produce needed is sourced locally. The market garden is run along organic and sustainable principles, ideally as at a closed-loop process through composting, recycling and rainwater harvesting.

One of the gardeners at work in the market garden

However, the project goes beyond this, by engaging the community to actually help out in the garden. Volunteers helped dig the site, prepare the soil and plant many of the seedlings over the past few months. How wonderful for local residents to be able to get involved and get their hands dirty - in an area where a large proportion of the population lives in high-rise units. A lawn area is being established that will be a fab place for kids to romp. There is also a large playground area for them: so necessary in a world in which outdoor play is becoming a rarity. A chicken coop has been installed, in which some hens will soon take up residence. Fruit trees of various sorts have been planted along the entire front verge of the precinct.

Acre, at Camperdown Commons

There are various eateries under the one roof, ranging from a coffee cart, casual eating outdoor area, a bar and an indoor restaurant. A weekly market stall selling surplus vegetables and herbs is in the pipeline. The whole feel of the place is rustic and relaxed. Gardening workshops are already being held here for the community, with special guest presenters, to teach people (including children) the skills to grow crops at home in compact spaces, along with the importance of good soil and the principles of composting.

Open space at Acre, Camperdown Commons

How rarely in this city, where shiny high-rise development rules supreme, do we see something like this, which brings people back to nature, helps children understand where food actually comes from, and fosters a sense of community. Whether the powers-that-be like it or not, we humans need to be in contact with nature on a regular basis. I applaud this development and hope it will be the first of many in our city.