Northey Street City Farm, Brisbane

Right in the middle of the city (Brisbane), Northey Street City Farm is a vibrant buzz of urban permaculture – and urban permaculture education – in action.  A community and volunteer-run farm of 4 hectares (approximately 10 acres), Northey Street runs a Sunday organic market and hosts an ongoing assortment of horticulture and permaculture courses every week.  An open-air community kitchen and outdoor classroom sit at the heart of the farm, and when I stopped by to visit, both were in full swing.  The kitchen was abuzz with volunteers n a communal lunch,    A perfectly complementary companion, Edible Landscapes Nursery, sells permaculture plants, bush tucker*, worm farms and water tanks, and sits adjacent to the heart of Northey Street.

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When I stopped by the farm, a class on garden pests was in session. The class was engaged in a vibrant exchange of questions, answers and discussion, all about garden pests and how they could be properly managed in an urban backyard setting.  I ducked into the back to listen.  Dick Copeman, Northey Street City Farm founder, and Tim Lang, Permaculture Trainer were teaching.  I later learned the group is part of a government-funded program, Green Jobs Corps, that invests in providing young Australia job seekers with work experience and skill development for emerging green and climate change industries.  Very cool that permaculture training is one of the fields deemed worthy of investment.

I spoke with Genevieve Wills, Edible Landscapes Nursery, about permaculture in public gardens.  She indicated she thinks permaculture is still regarded with some skepticism among the public, as well as among horticulturists.  With one foot in both worlds, I inquired:  Did she see contradictions or discrepancies between permaculture and horticulture?  No, she said. They both fit naturally together.  Permaculture does not contradict horticulture.

Gemma Schuch, a long-time farm student and volunteer, and now the Farm’s volunteers coordinator, invited me to join in the communal lunch, which featured custard apple, passionfruit and several dishes with unrecognizable but delicious ingredients, and I got to chat with Dick and some of the students.  When I explained what I was researching,  one of the students spoke up and said he thought one of the reasons botanic gardens hadn’t bought into permaculture was that it just took too long to set up a thoughtful design, and with the limited resources of botanic gardens, they were not likely to pursue it.  He also suggested that because permaculturists are usually independent thinkers, going through existing channels (such as public gardens) would not be likely approach for permaculturists, which I found interesting.

After lunch, Gemma took me on a walking tour of the farm.  Past the new education building up on pilings to withstand the next flood (the flood one and a half years ago wiped out all their computers), the chook** house, a giant worm farm, a collection area for neighbors to offload their leaves and brush, bathtubs employed for growing water chestnuts, a memorial garden with large stones and seating area to honor a beloved member of the Farm, a backyard demo garden complete with edibles and clothesline (with clothes hanging out), a  wood lot, a diversity garden for seed saving, a food forest, and a children’s area, I was struck by how truly vibrant and participatory this space was.  For example, the compost system is comprised of several huge tumblers, rolled to and fro by dozens of volunteers each week, and the movable chook tractor is a 20X10′ yard enclosed with individual sections of chain link fencing; another project that requires multiple people to move.

While the original vision of this place may have belonged to a few, it has succeeded in becoming a farm of and for the community, with horticulture and permaculture totally integrated into a thriving, functioning  place for growing and provisioning people in a sustainable way.

*Bush tucker refers to any food native to Australia and used as sustenance by the original inhabitants, the Australian Aborigines, although it is sometimes used with the specific connotation of “food found in the Outback while living on the land”. …source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_Tucker

** Chook = chicken

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