Along the Merri creek bike path, less then 10kms from the city center you will stumble across an urban jewel, a 150-year-old productive market garden. A market garden is a place where fruit and vegetables are grown to sell to the local community. The Merri Creek Market Garden was once farmed by a local Italian, Joe Garita, who at 65 decided to retire from the 2.5-acre market garden and offer his lease on the garden to CERES. Joe continues to act as a mentor to CERES farmers, a new generation of urban farmers.
Silka Genovese is one such farmer, the dedicated Merri creek market garden manager. Silka grew up in Germany and has been living in Melbourne for the past 15 years. Silka was not much of a gardener until she started volunteering at CERES. Through her volunteer work she heard about a great opportunity being offered at CERES. This was a 4-year apprenticeship in horticulture working at the CERES market garden and studying at TAFE one day a week. She was warned that it would be hard work, which did not deter Silka and she eagerly began her journey as an urban farmer.
Silka witnessed the progression of the Merri creek market garden from ‘conversion to organic’ through to ‘organic certification’. The market garden now functions as a fully certified organic farm and adheres to the philosophies and principles of organic management. The market garden sells its produce at the CERES organic market, the Melbourne community farmers markets and it will also be supplying CERES Food Connect with fresh seasonal produce. The CERES market garden grows a variety of seasonal vegetables including coriander (Silka’s favorite crop to grow) tomatoes, zucchinis, basil, bok choy, beetroot, leeks, silver beat, spring onions…the list goes on.
Silka admits that being a farmer is a challenging role. It is physically strenuous and requires thoughtful planning and the management of planting, harvesting, watering, pest control and crop rotations. Variable weather influences including minimal rainfall and Melbourne’s baking summer days do not make this easy.
However, the benefits of being an urban farmer make these challenges all worthwhile. Other than the fact she gets to drive a tractor in the city, Silka is happy to be spending her work hours outdoors and to be able to have a direct connection with nature and experience the seasonal cycles in the urban environment. She also loves the community spirit in the market garden amongst her workmates and the numerous CERES volunteers. Without these highly valued volunteers the market garden could not function. Silka also loves the direct contact that she has with the local community passing by.
The Merri Creek Market Garden is a significant part of a local food network that is growing in Melbourne. Currently the supply of food for the Melbourne community is dependent on long distance transport, lengthy cold storage and artificial preservation methods and has become divorced from selling local in season produce. These factors have negative environmental outcomes and impact on the quality of produce, nutritional value and price of food items. Local food networks and urban food production presents an alternative and has the capacity to contribute towards solutions for sustainability issues concerning the current food supply system.
The urban food production already present within the Melbourne metropolitan area is diverse. This ranges from backyard gardening and street plantings through to community gardens and viable commercial market gardens and orchards. This diversity represents an integrated food network that is demonstrating real solutions, connecting communities and encouraging thousands to grow their own food.
Silka is an inspiration to this movement. So if you are ever in the area, go say hello to Silka and the farm team and check out what seasonal produce is growing at the Merri Creek Market Garden.