Changes in the hood

Wagtail Urban Farm has been in a period of transition lately. I’ve decided to try and make a living growing vegetables next year, and Wagtail has played a big part in convincing me this is the right thing to do, both for myself and for the planet. But Wagtail was always an experiment in micro-scale urban farming, and what we’ve found after the first 18 months is that it is too small an area to fully support everyone who works there financially, let alone just one person!

While we kept meticulous records of our finances, the experiment was more than just about money – it was about proving such a venture could produce serious quantities of nutritious, organically grown food for our local community on an area the size of an average backyard. It has definitely achieved this goal, and I believe it has set a precedent for urban farming in Adelaide for its productivity. This kind of farming will increasingly be needed in an era of energy descent. But to provide a sustainable livelihood here and now, I needed to expand.

So for the last few months, I’ve been working on a new project.

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Village Greens is going to be a half-acre of diversified organic vegetables (10 times the size of Wagtail!), set within the fertile farmland at the Aldinga Arts Eco-Village on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is a project developed by myself, Claud Peoples, Lucy Chan and Ellie Firns, who live at the eco-village, and who met with us at the last Permaculture Design Course tour of Wagtail. We’ve been busy setting up a business, drawing irrigation plans, and digging trenches ready to start growing early next year.

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Today we launched our crowd-funding campaign, so please have a look and support us if you can! Our aim is to develop a viable model of human-scale farming, using the same techniques we’ve employed at Wagtail, but at a scale that provides us with a living wage. It follows in the tradition of Eliot Coleman, and more recently growers like Jean-Martin Fortier, who have pioneered techniques in profitable, intensive market gardening.

Wagtail will continue as Adelaide’s best-known urban farm, under the steady leadership of Steven Hoepfner. The Wagtail crew has big plans, and i’ll let Steven introduce them shortly.

Leaving Wagtail has not been an easy choice for me, given the knowledge, skills and friendships I’ve developed over the time I’ve been there, and the amazing support we’ve had from our local community and from the people who buy our vegetables.

But there will always be a strong connection between Wagtail and our new venture, and new small-scale farms can only be a good thing for Adelaide!

 

 

 

 

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Wagtail @ Transition Film Festival

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Come along and hear me and Costa Georgiadis discuss urban agriculture at this year’s Transition Film Festival! We’ll be holding a Q & A session after the film “Growing Cities” which explores urban farming in America, on Sunday 9th Nov, from 4pm at the Mercury Cinema. For more details check it out here.

Hope to see you there…

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Wagtail open day: little farm, big lessons…

Nat demonstrating the different tools of the trade

To celebrate Fair Food Week 2014, Wagtail is having another open day!

Come along on the 13th of October to see the proof, hear the stories, smell the flowers, taste the flavour and touch the spirit of this tiny little innovative farm. Our approach is the result of many agricultural practices and farming disciplines being refined on a (small) local stage. The results speak for themselves!

Gate opens at 3pm, bring some fry-able snacks (BBQ hot plate provided), drinks and an open mind. Questions like- “Why do you plant in the evening?”, “What’s with the floppy Hoe?”, “What’s a complete organic fertiliser?”, “Who buys your stuff?” and more will all be answered on the day, along with very informative demonstrations. This will be a great learning experience, whether you’re just starting out or interested in scaling up.

More details at http://fairfoodweek.org.au/event/wagtail-little-farm-big-lessons/

See you there!

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Wagtail turns one

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New born

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Happy birthday!

That’s right, Wagtail has officially had it’s first birthday. It was somewhere in between the first site preparation (5 May 2013), the first planting (9 July 2013) , and the first harvest (10 August 2013) – thus demonstrating the difficulty of pinning a start/end date on a cyclical activity! Reflecting back on our six-month achievements, there have been some changes – we’ve changed markets, our wages are now greater than $2/hour (but still short of minimum wages), and Brett, the third leg of the stool, has flown the coop to greener pastures (okay enough metaphors) for the time being (walking the path between paying the bills and following your dreams is never easy). But we’re also starting to see patterns emerging – getting a feel for the seasons, comparing notes from last year, learning from our mistakes, and establishing and bedding down the routines that keep the farm ticking along. But while our approach has always focused primarily on growing healthful veggies, there has been an amazing range of other activities and highlights intertwined with this core, for example:

  • Farmers’ Market representatives coming to talk to us about the future of farming, young farmers and local food
  • An artist project exploring the links between climate change, food and sustainability

Rosie from Urban Theatre Projects and Nat talking theatre and food

  • Sharing a beer with the neighbours
  • Connecting with the local community (e.g. reminding a local resident of her African roots when she came and picked rosella leaves to blanch and eat like spinach – I didn’t know you could eat them!)
  • Teaching the local high school about where food comes from
  • Lecturing at uni on urban agriculture and the future of food
  • Meeting up with Costa at the City Farms and Community Gardens conference in Hobart
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  • Hosting the Fair Food Week open day
  • Guiding a Permaculture Design Course tour
  • Holding numerous working bees with friends and supporters
  • Being involved in a local growers collective
  • Receiving a visit from our farming mentors at Allsun
  • Participating in a university-led workshop on urban agriculture
  • And last but not least, featuring on Today Tonight (we’ll keep you posted on this one – we promise it’s not a ‘shonky salesman’ scoop!)

From all of us we say thank you for supporting us over the last year, and let’s hope this next year brings as many welcome surprises.

Steven “Fishhead’ Hoepfner and Silvia Volonta at the Market Shed on Holland St

 

More farm visits!

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In addition to the PDC visit, we recently had a high-school class come from Hamilton Secondary College (only a few minutes round the corner from Wagtail) for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day on May 16th. They picked carrots, beetroot, parsley, mint and flowers to make a Rainbow Salad Wrap, in a record-breaking attempt to have the largest number of people cooking the same dish across the world in a 24hr period. It was great to see everyone getting into learning all the different types of veggies, and Jess, the school teacher who ran the project, is also an ex-chef, so she had lots of passion for the subject of local food.

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Sneaky rainbow chard picking

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Hamilton class and co.

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Preparing the dish back at school

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The finished product

Big thanks to Jess Lock from Hamilton for organising the event, and the students for coming and helping pick the biggest beetroot ever!

 

PDC visit

The Food Forest recently dropped in to Wagtail with students from this year’s Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC). It was great to see so many people interested in what we do, and to be able to share some of our techniques and experiences in micro-scale farming. As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, Eliot Coleman’s methods have a big influence on how we farm, and it was exciting to introduce his methods to a new crop of aspiring growers who had never heard of him before! I’m pretty sure it was during my PDC in 2008 at the Food Forest that I came across his book “The New Organic Grower” and a light-bulb came on, and I’ve been following that light ever since!

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Demonstrating the tools of the trade

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Preparing the bed

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PDC students try out the stirrup hoes and the Coleman hoe

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Transplanting demo – thanks for the flattering shot Brett!

In other news, just a reminder we’re still at The Market Shed on Holland St every Sunday from 9am-3pm – we pick the morning of the market, and it’s only 10km from the farm – you can’t get much more local or fresher than that! We’d love to see you there.

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