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Environment/Science Last Updated: Sep 29, 2019 - 12:49:43 AM

Queensland Farmers' Vision to Transform the south-east into Australia's Largest Urban Farm Network
By Katherine Feeney & Rebekah Powell
Sep 29, 2019 - 12:44:00 AM

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A man wearing gumboots and a broad-brimmed hat stands among rows of produce in a market garden.

PHOTO: Arran Heideman has been involved with the project since 2016. (Facebook: Millen Farm)

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Home to more than five million people, south-east Queensland is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia and is soon to become home to the country's largest urban farm network.

Key points:

  • Arran Heideman helped to transform the ex-CSIRO site into an urban farm
  • The Moreton Bay Regional Council has a vision to create the nation's largest urban farm network
  • Urban farming is being touted as a way to secure cities' food supply

The evolving community of urban farmers are taking advantage of unused spaces within Brisbane's suburban estates and on the metropolitan fringe to grow food for a hungry city.

One such site is a former CSIRO research station in the Samford Valley where the Moreton Bay Regional Council has helped locals create the 5,000-square-metre Millen Farm.

Aerial shot of a farm.PHOTO: Millen Farm is situated on the former CSIRO site in the Samford Valley. (Facebook: Millen Farm)

Under the direction of permaculturalist and market-gardener Arran Heideman, who joined the project in 2016, the decommissioned test facility was transformed into a local fresh food hub.

But as Mr Heideman explains, the process has been gradual, given the state the site had been left in.

"We were deficient in just about everything for growing food ... the organic matter was way down as well," Mr Heideman said.

"We got soil tests done ... we then worked with an agronomist to find out exactly what we were deficient in and the amount of trace elements and minerals we could put back in at any one time.

"So that's how we've been really working on our soil."

A man in a broad-brimmed hat laughs as he sits in front of a brick wall.PHOTO: Four years later, Mr Heideman and the team are seeing the hard work pay off. (Facebook: Millen Farm)

Nearly four years later, the hard work has paid off, and Millen Farm operates as a not-for-profit business and commercial organic farm, selling locally grown food straight to the local community.

"We've got 65 productive rows of organic crops running all the time," Mr Heideman said.

"We've got over 1,000 trees plus the orchard up the top, so the production rate is way, way up there."

Millen Farm also holds workshops across the Moreton Bay area to equip city-dwellers with the skills to become small-scale food producers.

Benefits extend beyond the hip pocket

Leeks on a table at a market.PHOTO: Each week Millen Farm holds a farmers market for the local community. (ABC News: Nickoles Coleman)

With growing concern about future global food shortages, experts are advancing urban agriculture as a part of the solution.

Industry consultant Peter Kearney said small-scale farms, close to, and within, large population centres made sense.

"People in the city are the consumers of most of the food," Mr Kearney said.

"They generate most of the green waste and there is land available.

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"Even if it's rooftops, the issues of food security can be definitely buffered by urban agriculture anywhere in the world."

However, Mr Kearney said there were barriers to further growth, with rapidly growing cities squeezing out some of the country's most productive farmland.

"I think [the issue] is mostly land access, I mean there is land, but it's more getting the councils and the landowners to look at the potential - that land can also have an ecological and an economic aspect," he said.

Mr Kearney identified local government involvement as a key to the success of Millen Farm.

Produce grows on a farm with a hill in the background.PHOTO: The council is keen to expand its urban farm network after the success of Millen. (Facebook: Millen Farm)

For its part, the regional council is keen to expand, with a plan to invite community to consult on a vision for the largest urban farm network in Australia.

"We've got a large region, it's almost 2,500 kilometres, so there are a lot of areas like this that have that infill capability like this," Division 11 councillor, Darren Grimwade, said.

"So once they come up with the final numbers of the sort of land pockets we have available, we'll be coming back to the community to find out what kind of scale we can do this in."

Community is key in suburban neighbourhoods

For those hoping to go it alone and profit off their own small urban farm, Mr Kearney cautioned it would be challenging without community support.

"It is difficult for urban farmers to really compete on their own unless they weave their community into their space," he said.

But closed loop growers Alice Star and Phil Garozzo, who manage a market farm at Samford, said they essentially did just that.

Their business, Loop Growers, began as a green waste collection service for local cafes, with Alice and Phil using the organic materials to beef up their small plot of land at Draper.

Alice and Phil tend their worm farm with rakes, spreading our organic waste into the soilPHOTO: Alice and Phil's worm farms are fed with organic waste from cafes who buy their produce, generating compost to grow more. (ABC News: Tim Swanston)

Once their crops were established, they were able to harvest and sell their produce right back to the cafe's they'd been collecting food scraps from.

Mr Garozzo and Ms Star have since partnered with more than 15 cafes and restaurants.

"We started with I think it was eight rows of 10 metres and you can grow so much food in such a small space," Ms Star said.

"I think a lot of backyards in Brisbane have that much space, so you can really grow a lot for your local community in a really small area."

Watch this story on ABC TV's Landline this Sunday at 12:30pm or on iview and tune into ABC Radio Brisbane via the ABC Listen App throughout the week for more.

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