Canberra children's charity Marymead has begun an urban farm, where young people with disabilities can learn how to grow vegetables and herbs. This weekend, produce from the garden will be sold at the charity's spring plant sale.
The urban farm began in January and has been given the name MULCH (Marymead's Urban Land Community Harvest). The vegetables and herbs are being raised organically on the block, which has taken two years to get up and growing. The driving forces behind it have been Helen Gardner and Judith Ong.
Led by horticulturist Jeff Vivian, 15 young adults with disabilities can attend two four-hour sessions a day, working in the 18 no-dig garden beds where they learn new skills and develop friendships. Vivian, who has taught high-school agriculture and has run a program at Black Mountain School, was born in Canberra and grew up on a large, urban block in O'Connor where his father grew vegetables.
At MULCH, wooden pallets and crates from Aluminium Warehouse in Fyshwick are refashioned into temporary garden beds and surrounds. Straw came from the Canberra Show. The beds are covered in netting to deter frost, rabbits and possums, and participants made a scarecrow. Marymead's young professional group, Nexgen, has raised money for a ute for the garden.
During September, they are growing impressive crops of garlic, kale, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, beetroot, silverbeet, red cabbage, ruby chard, carrots, leeks, cream gold onions, snowpeas and sugar snap peas, most of it raised from organic seed from Mountain Creek at Griffith shops. There are 120 people on the staff at Marymead and the produce is currently sold to them.
The garden is also helped by a group called the ''Garden Gals'', who meet once a week to work in the Marymead garden nursery, and who have been raising plants for Marymead fund-raising for many years. They have given the MULCH garden rhubarb crowns, lemongrass, raspberry canes and flowering plants.
At this weekend's plant sale, they will sell garden bowls of loose-leaf lettuce, herbs and trays of lucerne plants to improve soil quality. These are all from the MULCH garden. The group will also sell rhubarb, raspberries, boysenberries and strawberries, bay trees and lemongrass and home-made preserves, as well as trees, shrubs, perennials, ground covers, climbers, bulbs and succulents, in colour-coded pots.
The plants are raised from seed, cuttings or divisions from members' own gardens and are donated by family and friends. Many of the plants are grown at the site for 12 months or more as it takes time for cuttings and seedlings to grow to a reasonable size to sell. They use a friable potting mix and fertilise the plants before sale.
One member of the group and her son raise about 500 tomato seedlings of various kinds for the Marymead fete in November.
>> The Marymead spring plant sale is on September 21, 9am to 1pm, 255 Goyder Street, Narrabundah.
>> Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.