Urban farming at Sydney Park

Summer Garden with brickworks stacks in the background

We’re familiar with Urban Gardens, Guerrilla Gardens, Community Gardens and now we have the beginnings of a City Farm with the launch of the new Summer Garden.

In a the City Farm Feasibility Study prepared by CLOUSTON Associates, it was found that “The burgeoning of city farms and community gardens in Australia and around the world reflects society’s concern to reconnect our urban communities with the realities and values of the most basic of human needs – food production.”

Constructing and preparing the beds for planting

Constructing and preparing the beds for planting

With this in mind the Powerhouse Museum and City of Sydney forged ahead with a proposal for a city garden in the grounds of the Museum but with the proposed redevelopment of Darling Harbour and the UPN (Ultimo Pedestrian Network), the plan evolved into the Summer Garden, a micro farm at Sydney Park with a full blown City Farm to come into operation by 2015.

Sydney Park’s history reveals that prior to European settlement the north-west part of the Park was forested with turpentine and ironbark trees with agriculture started by Thomas Smyth, a marine sergeant with the First Fleet. He cleared the land and planted fruit trees and grain crops.

Between the 1840s to 1970s the site also played a role in the building of Sydney with the establishment of brick works. The Park was also used for gas storage, manufacturing and warehousing. Eventually the huge pits created by clay extraction, were filled with municipal waste between 1948 to1976. The remaining kilns and brickwork chimneys at the corner of Sydney Park Road and the Princes Highway are now well-known landmarks of our city.

Since the closure of the St Peters tip, the development of the recreational park saw stormwater ponds transformed into wetlands to recreate the pre-European environment and it’s industrial heritage was preserved. It seems appropriate to locate this micro farm in the grounds of Sydney Park where it has potential to grow into a full-scale farm and where it also reflects the early phases of farming activity in this country.

D*Hub recently spoke to Peter Morton and Helen Nicholson, key players from the Powerhouse Museum about their involvement in the project.

Firstly could you introduce yourself to our readers?
PM. I am the Manager Strategic Policy and Planning. In addition to this core role, I have been involved in a range of partnership projects that strengthen our engagement with the wider community. I worked with museum colleagues to broker the partnership with the City of Sydney to enable Janet Echelman’s work to be featured in their Art&About program, I am working with SHFA and colleagues at UTS, ABC and TAFE on the development of The Goods Line linear park that connects Central Railway to Darling Harbour, and to develop innovative approaches to programming and managing this public space.

HN. I produce community programs at the Museum. The scope of these programs is broad in terms of scale, content and audience. They can range from programs for exhibitions like ‘Living in a sensory world’, ‘Spirit of Jang-in: treasures of Korean metalwork’ and ‘The 80s are back’ to programs for Don’t DIS my ABILITY, NAIDOC Week, Diwali, Seniors Week, National Archaeology Week and Chinese New Year. I am an archaeologist and at the moment I am developing K-12 education programs on the archaeology of Fort Phillip for Sydney Observatory.

What is the Summer Garden?
PM. The Summer Garden is a small-scale pilot or prototype for the planned City Farm to be created at Sydney Park. Importantly, it has been created to emulate a farm – with zones, and styles of planting. So it includes small-scale ‘fields’ of planning – like cotton and corn, an orchard and a small-scale timber plantation. The Summer Garden has been designed to introduce the concept of a City Farm to the community, and invite volunteer participation.

HN. It’s not that community gardens are lacking as such because the number of community gardens in Australia are both increasing and they are flourishing. Generally, however, community gardens are produced by particular communities for food and flowers for that particular community’s needs. They can be fenced and plots allocated with resulting long waiting lists for a plot so not everyone can participate.

Team of volunteers get breifed on work to be done

Team of volunteers get briefed on work to be done

The Summer Garden is just one program within the broader vision of the proposed City Farm and although the business plan and its governance are a work in progress its focus is very much on agriculture and farming – from crops, livestock and plantations to equipment and infrastructure – and everything in between. The Summer Garden actively seeks to engage all members of the public to be involved as volunteer City Farmers in order to give the public a taste of rural Australia in the very heart of a large urban centre. The inclusion of crops like cotton and plantation pines provokes questions and conversations and introduces the concept of a City Farm.

It’s located in a prominent section of Sydney Park close to the children’s playground entrance off Princes Highway and near the kiosk and old kilns. It’s not fenced so can be accessed from any direction. The end nearest to the carpark has a mesh fence and people are encouraged to help build this art wall with found objects.

What has been your role in the development of the Garden?
PM. The Powerhouse Museum has a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Sydney to partner in the development of the City Farm. The original feasibility study proposed two sites – a large site at Sydney Park, and a smaller site on the Museum’s disused car park. There are now other plans for the car park’s redevelopment and so we are looking for alternate ways to create a City presence for the Farm. In the meantime we are collaborating on the planning for the Farm at Sydney Park. The Museum offers expertise in public and learning programs, and links to the farm through its collection of agricultural equipment and its interest in sustainability. A Farm site in the City would also provide the Museum a further opportunity to engage with the local community.

HN. I am a member of a smaller committee that has used the results of a community workshop held last October to create and develop the content of the Summer Garden programs. My role is advisory and has ranged from editing position descriptions for volunteers to even sourcing a street artist to paint the large industrial skips that you see planted out with corn and forest plantation trees in the Summer Garden. I also proposed the Sheep Dog Trials held last weekend (9 February). That was a great way to engage dog owners who use Sydney Park and fun for family groups.

What do you hope to achieve through it?
PM. We are committed to supporting innovative and relevant learning experiences at the Farm. We are also committed to supporting innovative design principles in its development. This reflects our role as a design museum. The project presents interesting opportunities to combine aesthetics with sustainability.

When can the public see it and how can people get involved?
PM. The site is not fenced, and is open to the public at all times. Volunteers, who we call ‘city farmers’ are on site every day from 10 to noon and from 4 to 6pm to tend the site, water etc. They also talk to passers-by, many of whom are very keen to find out more about the project. Encouragingly, to date there has been virtually no vandalism or theft of plants – it shows people respect the site and the request to ‘leave only footprints and take only photos’

HN. There is an extensive program of events throughout the life of the garden as you can see. Only last weekend we held the Sheep Dog Trials that was a great success. The dogs were the stars of the show but the one of the most exciting aspects of the program was to see people use the park and see the interest in the plantings. The full program of events can be found on the City of Sydney website. Of course you can get more deeply involved in the project by becoming a City Farmer. You are firstly taken through a site induction. These take place at regular intervals. You can find details at the Summer Garden website. Or you can simply drop in, have a chat to the attendants, contribute to our woven wall and check out how the plantings are doing.

enthusiastic team engaging with the public

enthusiastic team engaging with the public

There are still lots of fun events comming so look out for:
Feb 16. Scarecrow building
Feb 16. Meet a farmer
Feb 23. Meet a beekeeper
Mar 2.   Meet a market gardener
Mar 9.   Meet a horticulturist
Mar 16. Paddock to plate
Mar 23. Celebration/ Harvest Weekend

What is your favourite part of the project?
PM. I love the spirit with it has been embraced by those who visit. People offer thanks, spontaneously say ‘you’re doing a great job’ – it reminds you how much people seek genuine and community based experiences

HN. The opportunity to be part of a project that plans to give city dwellers a taste of rural life really excites me. There is also is a very real buzz and sense of excitement around the City Farm – it has enormous formal and informal learning potential.

How long will the Summer Garden be in place and what is the long term plan?
PM. The Summer Garden will end in late March, when the produce is harvested and used by on of Sydney’s mobile food trucks to create a harvest festival. We’ll then commence the detailed business and masterplanning for the Farm itself. We want to see construction commence in 2014, with it functioning from 2015.

What books would you recommend to readers on the subject that have inspired you?
PM. I would highly recommend ‘My green city: back to nature with attitude and style’ edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann, and Kitty Bolhofer.

HN – I found a lot of really cool information on the web – it’s constantly evolving and new things are happening every day.

So next time you go for a bike ride or walk your dog at Sydney Park make some time to visit the Summer Garden, talk to some volunteers, learn about farming methods, companion planting, forests, participate in some local community art, or pop round for one of the Powerhouse Museum’s fun programs. Who knows, you just may end up watering the garden and enjoying some of the produce at harvest time – isn’t that what farming is all about?