• Produce grown in the urban farm in Port Melbourne. (William Hamilton-Coates)Source: William Hamilton-Coates
Forget the assumption that cities have a lack of space available to grow fresh produce. This experimental urban farm proves that it's possible to grow masses of vegetables in a space as small as a car park.
Yasmin Noone

28 Aug 2019 - 4:57 PM  UPDATED 28 Aug 2019 - 6:40 PM

An urban farm project in Melbourne, powered by coffee compost and food waste that would otherwise go to the landfill, has successfully reached its target and grown around 300 kilograms of vegetables and herbs for people in need.

The farm, spread across two empty car spaces in Port Melbourne industrial parking lot, was originally intended to be a 12-month experimental project run by Cirrus Fine CoffeeBiofilta and Australian Ecosystems.

But having already generated 360 kilograms of produce in under eight months and donated more than 90 per cent of food grown to OzHarvest, the farm will now remain functioning on-site indefinitely.

"So an urban farm like this aims to tackle the existence of food deserts in cities like Melbourne, and improve the nutrition of people in need.”

“In our cities, we have food deserts – areas where there are high concentrations of fast food outlets,” says Brendan Condon, director of the three sustainability companies involved in the collaboration.

“But many people can’t get access to nutrient-dense, high-quality food. So an urban farm like this aims to tackle the existence of food deserts in cities like Melbourne, and improve the nutrition of people in need.”

The small farm will now be used as a test case for a much bigger scale rooftop farm, Melbourne Skyfarm, to be built on a larger parking lot in the heart of the city in 2020.

“We tend to think that cities are congested places with no space, but in Melbourne, we have huge amounts of spare, under-utilised space to be growing food,” explains Condon.

“On top of that, we have huge streams of organic waste streams that come out of our cities, as well as massive amounts of water running off our rooftops. We could be using the water and organic waste and putting it back into urban farming.

“This small project proves that cities can be really food abundant and we can grow huge amounts of food in small spaces.”

How coffee compost and food waste is charging this urban farm

The farm's recipe for success is multifactorial. Firstly, it uses water-efficient wicking beds. But the real secret seems to lie in the soil, featuring composted coffee grounds and coffee chaff from the company’s roaster, as well as composted organic waste from South Melbourne Market.

Composted coffee grounds contain a large amount of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, calcium and iron, making them a good additive into compost. They are also a valuable source of nitrogen.

The organic waste from the markets includes fish residues. “That’s fish guts, heads, bones and innards,” he says. “Fish residues turbocharges your garden, as it’s high in nitrogen.”

Off-cuts from produce stalls at South Melbourne Market also make it into the farm’s compost heap.

“Fish residues turbocharges your garden, as it’s high in nitrogen.”

South Melbourne Market stall-holder, Alan Li from Fruits on Coventry, tells SBS he contributes masses fruit and vegetable waste to the farm.

“We sell around 45-50 tonnes of fresh food a week,” says Li. “So we fill around three green bins a day of green waste, plus two extra bins of green waste from the oranges we juice for our customers. In total, that’s about 5 big bins of green waste a day. That’s a lot of green waste that we produce, which doesn’t end up in landfill.”

Li explains leaves, off-cuts and leftover produce from the stall goes into green waste bins, before being hot composted and then donated to the urban farm for fertiliser.

“We are using our green waste to create a benefit for the community as most of the food grown at the urban farm goes towards feeding the homeless and people in need. I’m really happy with the outcome.”

Since the project started in January this year, the double car-park garden has grown heritage varieties of tomatoes, corn, zucchini, pumpkin, spring onion, beetroot, rainbow chard, spinach, silverbeet, flowers to attract beneficial insects and also a range of herbs like chives, basil, oregano and coriander.

Although winter has been slow, Condon believes that spring will reap a plentiful harvest.

“We can’t grow all of the diverse food plants that comprise the entire modern diet,” says Condon.

“But by volume, weight and value, we can punch a big hole in city food demands within city limits by using readily available organics that we currently treat as waste.”

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