A thriving environmental park in the centre of Melbourne is winning hearts and minds with its just-picked produce and fresh ideas, writes Fiona Negrin.
It's 10.30 on Saturday morning and CERES Organic Market in East Brunswick, Melbourne, is bustling. The air is fragrant with the market's signature scents of brewing coffee, just-baked bread and fresh hay. Already, the queue for hand-shaped spelt loaves is long and the wait for a soy dandelion latte is 15 minutes, but the delay is taken as an opportunity to browse. Locals roam the vegie stalls, plucking eggplant, crisp lettuces and sun-kissed mandarins from spilling baskets. Children shriek and dart, burning off energy while their parents shrug off bags and take a breather in the shade, or sift through handcrafts and used goods in the Craft Market.
CERES is the most-visited community environment park in Australia, and the market is just one of its myriad attractions. The park is a hothouse of sustainable endeavours ranging from community gardens to chicken collectives, eco-house displays to green technology projects, and includes an organic cafe and a plant nursery. So impressive are its achievements that in 2009 CERES won the United Nations Association Australia World Environment Day Award for Best Community-based Environment Project. It's hard to believe that 25 years ago, this 4.5-hectare former bluestone quarry just five kilometres from the CBD was the local rubbish tip.
Honey Lane Market Garden, a 2000-square-metre sloping terrace at the heart of the park, is CERES' food garden. It predates the market: the first seeds were sown in 1996. Edible marigolds bob among the rainbow chard, staked broad beans and tomatoes heave on their stalks and notes of basil and rosemary waft on the breeze. It's no wonder the garden is perennially popular with school groups, corporate visitors and as a venue for community and commercial events.
"They want to see how it's done," says long-time Honey Lane farmer Steve Ward. "That's the main purpose of Honey Lane - to introduce people to healthy, locally grown food, to teach about sustainability, good nutrition, and for children to see where their food's actually grown."
The CERES Market (incorporating the Organic Market and Craft Market) was born in 2000 as a means of using Honey Lane's surplus harvest and to offer a hub for a community hankering to buy local. The market soon became a beloved institution: a meeting place, a one-stop shop, and an inspirational example of urban agriculture in action.
"It's good to show off urban agriculture," says Dori Ellington, Manager of CERES Market, who is perky and talkative even though she's been lifting boxes and setting up the market since seven o'clock this morning. "Honey Lane is on an old tip site, so if we can do it, anyone can."
The fruit and vegetables sold at the Organic Market hail from Honey Lane and organic wholesalers ("for stuff that's not grown locally, like bananas"), but the bulk of the produce comes from a small cohort of local farmers and the Merri Creek Market Garden (also run by CERES). "We write the food miles on the price tags so if you want to do the 100-Mile Diet or buy only Victorian, you can," she says.
In late 2009, CERES received $620,000 through the Federal Government's Jobs Fund to develop its food co-op business into an organic food-delivery service. "People love having a choice," says Dori. "A market is a very social place and a great way to spend a morning. The delivery service allows people who don't have time [to visit the market] to still make healthy food choices and support local farmers."
Offering more choice to consumers sows the seed for a sustainable future. The CERES Urban Orchard project allows more than 170 local households to swap herbs and vegies from their own gardens with other Brunswick and Northcote residents.
But even if you're an out-of-towner, a trip to CERES Market is a journey worth taking. You'll smell the hay, handle vegetables still clodded with dirt, and truly feel part of the wheel of life. Steve thinks this is the key to CERES' enduring appeal. "It has the life cycle of plants from beginning to end, from seed to feed. It's real - it smells good and bad. That's real life. There's nothing hidden."Top farmers' marketsBuy fresh fruit, vegetables, smallgoods and preserves direct from producers.
Brisbane Northey St City Farm, cnr Northey and Victoria Sts, Windsor.
Sydney Eveleigh Farmers' Market, 243 Wilson St, Darlington.
Canberra Capital Region Farmers' Market, Exhibition Park.
Hobart Tasmanian Farm Gate, Melville St outdoor carpark, Hobart.
Adelaide Adelaide Showground Farmers' Market, Leader St, Goodwood.
Perth Perth City Farm Organic Growers' Market, cnr Lime and Brown Sts, East Perth.
Darwin Rapid Creek Market, Rapid Creek Business Village. (08) 8948 4866
To find other markets in your area, go to www.farmersmarkets.org.au. Community gardensNo room to grow your own vegies? Sign up for a plot at your local community garden. Don't be surprised if there's a waiting list...
Brisbane Jane St Community Garden, West End. (07) 3844 7733
Sydney Randwick Community Organic Garden.
Hobart Creek Road Community Garden, Lenah Valley. (03) 6227 8390
Adelaide Wynn Vale Community Gardens.
Perth Perth City Farm, East Perth.
Find a community garden near you at www.communityfoods.org.au.
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