Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Urban agriculture

“My name is Thorin Beowulf and I’m doing a masters on the motivation for engaging in urban agriculture. Would you like to participate in my research?”

With a name like Thorin Beowulf? Are you kidding?

This isn't Thorin (or a Norse God of ancient mythology). It's my nephew, Tom.

This isn’t Thorin (or a Norse God of ancient mythology). It’s my nephew, Tom.

Thorin arrived punctually at midday. Far from being the bearded God of Thunder I was expecting he looked a little peaky and slightly undernourished, like he could have done with a good feed. I offered him a slice of boiled fruitcake and he wolfed it down, admitting he hadn’t eaten since the day before.

He was from Canberra of all places, not some distant Scandinavian island of myth and legend, and his questions were simple and straightforward. What do you grow? Why do you grow it? What motivates you?

Being an ex-journalist I couldn’t help but ask a few questions of my own. Is there a growing interest in cultivating food in urban areas, I asked? Apparently European and South East Asian immigrants are most likely to want to grow their own food and other community gardens in Sydney are common, although most are gated and closely monitored. ‘You get allocated a plot of land and if you don’t maintain that plot it gets taken away from you and given to someone else on the waiting list,’ he said. That sounds a lot like the allotment system in England.

Mort Bay Community Garden is unusual in being open and accessible to everyone. That brings risks of course, and recently there’s been a spate of pilfering by people who don’t know how to cut or harvest plants, many of which simply aren’t ready.

I’m full of admiration for the volunteer organisers at Mort Bay who keep the garden operating and who are now trying to find a way of overcoming that pilfering.

According to Thorin, food security is a growing concern in developing nations but less so in developed countries like Australia. ‘People talk about self-provisioning but there aren’t that many actually doing something about it,’ he said. So hats off if you manage to grow your own food.

And my answer to why I (try) to do it?

I like knowing where my food comes from. I like nurturing seeds that can turn from tiny specks of grit into mouth-watering produce that hasn’t been blasted by chemicals, and I like getting my hands dirty.

Thorin still needs more people to interview, so if you’d like to take part in his research you can contact him here –


9 comments on “Urban agriculture

  1. bkpyett
    June 27, 2014

    That sounds a worthwhile project Deb and I enjoyed reading your post!


  2. debhuntinbrokenhill
    June 27, 2014

    Thanks Barbara, I’ve just cooked the cabbage leaves I harvested from the last working bee at the community garden!


  3. Tom would be a far more suitable Thorin Beowulf! (Do you think it was for real?) I used to grow vegetables (very successfully) between and behind the flowering shrubs in our Sydney garden. It’s one thing I miss about living in a unit.


    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      June 27, 2014

      Hello Helen lovely to hear from you. And it never even occurred to me his name might be fake! That shows how gullible I am. Sorry to hear you’ve lost your garden, hope you’ve got some pots on your balcony?


      • I tried, but without much success. Too many brisk sea breezes, too little sun – and not quite the same enthusiasm, I fear!


  4. monsoonwendy
    June 27, 2014

    Does accidental rocket and deliberate coriander count as urban agriculture? If not self provisioning. He would have loved talking with you Deb. Hope Clyde enjoyed his visit!
    Hugs, Wendy


  5. debhuntinbrokenhill
    June 27, 2014

    Yes it counts, Thorin told me so! And thankfully he didn’t look anything like Tom, or Clyde would have been worried 🙂 x


  6. Maggie Wilson
    June 27, 2014

    Growing my own food has an almost romantic aspect for me. Like the walled gardens of Victorian England with espaliered fruit and rows of veg and ornamental flowers. The concept still draws me. But reality soon kicks in with the work and challenges (deer, slope, shade etc). I keep my veggie plot to a manageable size these days.

    I’m like you Deb – I like to watch as plants grow from seedling to seed pod. I don’t mind dirt or worms. And I like to garden organically.


  7. debhuntinbrokenhill
    June 30, 2014

    I’m with you Maggie – there’s something romantic about the notion until reality kicks in. I’ve always thought I would LOVE a walled garden, kept mentally asking the universe for one but I forgot to say it had to be big enough to get enough sun. We’ve got walls twenty-five feet high on one side (the back of other houses) and ten feet high on the opposite side, with not enough space in the middle!


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This entry was posted on June 27, 2014 by and tagged , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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