Pocket City Farms: Urban Agriculture in Sydney

This article was first published in Mini Matters and on Matters Journal on December 7, 2017. Images courtesy of Ben Symons/Pocket City Farms.

What was once a disused trash-filled bowling green is now home to a thriving market garden complete with a greenhouse, community composting program, a food forest and some very happy chooks.

Tucked away on a residential street in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Camperdown, about four kilometres from the CBD, is Pocket City Farm’s first urban farm. The farm is part of Camperdown Commons, a community rejuvenation project that is an initiative of the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL. It shares the space with the RSL-managed Common Spaces, which offers local community groups, businesses and not-for-profits on-site spaces to meet and hold events, and with acre, the adjacent eatery that overlooks the farm. acre uses the farm’s organic produce in their seasonal menus and contributes to the farm’s composting and recycling programs. Collectively, they also run seasonal events together.

“In 2013, we had our eye on Camperdown Bowling Club, which had closed down, and ended up in touch with Camperdown Project who were interested in putting in a tender to take on the lease and renovations for the restaurant and community spaces,” says Emma Bowen, General Manager at Pocket City Farms. “We put in our farm as a part of the tender and were successful.”

Pocket City Farm_Image by Ben Symons
Image by Ben Symons

Given its inner-city location, Pocket City Farms first undertook extensive soil testing on the site to ensure it was clean and safe to grow food in. “Fortunately, it was in great shape on that front, which isn’t often the case with urban soils,” notes Bowen. With a year to spare before Camperdown Commons opened to the public, Pocket City Farms used the time to build the nutrient in the soil. “We grew a winter green manure crop and then a summer one, and these were both dug back in the soil to build organic matter, nutrients and microbes.”

A team of local community volunteers helped to mark and dig out the garden beds, remove rocks, plant, weed and generally help get the farm in working order to open in June 2016. “Now it’s an urban farm with a free community food forest out the front,” says Bowen. “We grow vegetables, salads and herbs that the local community can come by and pick up on the weekends.”

Pocket City Farms connects with the local community in as many ways as they can. They run yoga classes and community education workshops for kids and adults (current events include: How to Grow Greens; Native, Stingless Beekeeping, and; Biointensive Growing). They have monthly crop swaps on-site, sell their produce to local cafes and restaurants across the inner west and have school groups, corporate and community groups use the space for outings.

Bowen says the Farm was created by a desire to grow food locally and to help create more points of connection with the production of our food: “Living in the city we are so removed from the processes that get our food to our plates every day, and urban agriculture, in general, has shown to be a fantastic way to bridge that divide.”

The farm is overseen by a hardworking team of four, who all volunteer their time and skills. Bowen is the general manager and has a background in urban sustainability and permaculture. Michael Zagoridis is the farm manager and has a background in regenerative farming and permaculture. Karen Erdos is an architect with a focus on sustainable practice and Lucinda Molloy has a background in urban planning and public policy.

A few years in the making, Zagoridis, who was working as a graphic designer, “decided he wanted to get out of the office and be a farmer”, while Bowen, who was working as an editor at a sustainable living magazine, was inspired after interviewing the guys at Brooklyn Grange in New York, who operate a 2.5-acre rooftop urban farm. “We were living in Newtown and still enjoyed living in the city so we began a discussion about growing food in the city,” she says. Both she and Michael were undertaking permaculture studies at the time when they were put in touch with Karen who “had been working on some ideas along the same lines” and they joined forces.

In developing the concept, Camperdown Project, who manage the Commons, were keen to ensure that the former bowling club would become a relevant and valued space to inner-west locals. Their vision was to create a community hub with common green and recreational spaces. After much research, planning and extensive community consultation, Camperdown Commons was created.”

“The former bowling club has become a much-loved space where local residents, families and friends can come together, either for a drink, dinner, yoga or to pick up some produce from the farm,” says Ilina Lovely, community manager at Camperdown Commons. “It’s a space that’s successfully celebrated for its rejuvenation and innovation by residents and visitors to the area. There are not many places, in major cities, where you can enjoy lunch while overlooking a working farm, where you can take the kids to learn how their food is grown. Our community has really embraced Camperdown Commons and we are pretty proud to see people in awe of what we have created.”

It’s a sentiment that Bowen shares. “We get quite a lot of people coming regularly to our weekly volunteer sessions as an opportunity to really get stuck into some garden, dirt and sunshine-filled work, which is always great to see.” While Pocket City Farms are currently working on a few new urban farm spaces, they are still determining how they can effectively grow the concept and the resources needed to do that. “Starting and running one farm is a huge undertaking, whether that’s in the city or country, and to add on more is no easy feat,” says Bowen. “We’re slowly building a fantastic team of people and some of our volunteers are also gathering the skills, with us and elsewhere, to become great urban farmers so we hope there will soon be more farming in the city with them taking on the reins.”

Visit Pocket City Farms at Camperdown Commons, 31A Mallett St, Camperdown, and learn more about their work here.