A not-for-profit organisation, you can find Pocket City Farms at Camperdown Commons – once a bowling green, now part urban farm, part restaurant. Their mission is to convert under-utilised places into valuable food-growing spaces and community hubs that let members of the community get their hands dirty – especially kids. We pulled Zags away from the soil for a minute to tell us about his love for sharing the value of native edibles.
There’s quite a range of Australian native edibles at Camperdown Commons, what inspired you to set that up?
We’ve always been interested in the concept the foods that can be grown in that area, and in Australia in general. Through learning about permaculture, you are exposed to a lot of native and Indigenous experience and knowledge, even through researching and reading books by Pascoe and Gammage, talking about things that were happening before colonisation. Quite a few people are really passionate about keeping that tradition going, and exploring the type of things that grow in this type of climate with these soil conditions. Another interesting thing is how much variety there is out there.
As soon as you start looking into the type of plants that are native to this land, the list just keeps getting longer and longer. And then you start to meet people with resources, who open up different avenues and are are exploring different things and it’s just that steamroll effect.
How do you use the native edibles that you grow?
A lot of the native food that we grow here are perennial crop, so we don’t necessarily grow them out on the fields and in the beds. But a lot of the perimeter plantings, we use to grow these perennial plantings. There’s Warrigal Greens, Lilly Pillys, native mint and saltbush – things that we can harvest and sell to our different markets, which is pretty crucial. We find that within the different markets that we sell into, there’s certain things people won’t touch because the knowledge base isn’t there. Then there’s also local restaurants that are really passionate about experiencing new – new to them – Indigenous foods. Finding the right people is quite key to what you’re growing.
Do you know of any restaurants that use native edibles?
Paperbark is a really good one. They’re all plant based dining and their chef is really creative. He’s done a lot of extensive travel around NSW and is always looking for different Indigenous ingredients to experiment with. Rolling Pennies have also bought Indigenous edibles from us before. They’re awesome. There’s also a restaurant called Yellow that don’t necessarily buy from us, but they buy from local farms and they’re known to really utilise native ingredients. I know Kylie Kwong is passionate about using them as well.
Since you’ve started Pocket City Farms, have you noticed a shift in your wellbeing, surrounded by nature?
Definitely. Sitting behind a computer all day, it was catalyst for me wanting to shake things up a little bit. But there’s definitely benefits to being on your feet more. I find putting in a podcast and spending a couple of hours weeding is quite therapeutic.
Why do you think it’s so important for people to surround themselves with plants?
If you’re in a place that’s just a concrete jungle all the time, it can really affect your mood I think. Being this close to the city and having just a local park or waterway that you have access to just to spend a little bit of time there is really important because you have a connection with a living environment. And of course, our space is always open for people to volunteer or to have workshops.
If you could spend a day gardening with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Okay…that is quite a decent question! Talking about my love of listening podcasts on the field, someone I can have a good conversation with and gain some knowledge. I’ve met Bruce Pascoe once very briefly, so maybe spending a day with him would be awesome. Just the amount of passion that bleeds out of him is just really amazing. So he would be someone I would love to spend a day gardening with.
You have an adorable son Banjo. What’s his take on gardening and do you have any tips for parents trying to get their kids outdoors?
He’s always really excited to be in the farm. Any time we’re out doing some work with weeding tools, he always wants to have a go. He’s getting pretty good at it as well. The fact that he’s being exposed to it now means that it’s something he will have a passion for later.
You do have to be careful where you let your kids weed in the gardens because a lot of the time they’re not always particular in terms of pulling out the right and wrong thing!
Make sure there’s space that they can do things wrong and it’s not going to cause too much damage. And, yeah, I guess, don’t be too precious about it if they do accidentally pull something out. You can always plant something else.
And keep an eye out for recipes and more native edibles content, coming soon!
Note native edible species aren’t always available/viable in every state, best to check with your local accredited nursery!