From Perth to Melbourne and New York to London, city farms are no longer an urban myth, but an urban reality.
With the majority located just a few kilometres from city centres, these hubs bring a hands-on approach to the environmentally-conscious. They are also a great place to bring communities together, relax and have a cup of non-genetically modified coffee or pesticide-free salad.
The city farm in Melbourne – known as the Centre for Education and Research and Environmental Strategies (CERES) – is just minutes from the CBD in Brunswick. It is also the largest city farm in Australia.
Previously a rubbish tip, the site of the CERES Community Environment Park was once deemed a wasteland by the local council. It is now a busy centre where one can learn practical ways to save electricity, reduce water wastage or grow vegetables – all in the convenience of city living.
For the more adventurous, there are evening classes on how to make fetta cheese, jam or gluten-free cakes. There are even lessons on beekeeping and chook care.
"[The people] come and do hands-on activities learning about work conservation, energy conservation and generation, and land conservation, and looking at all issues within that," said the marketing co-ordinator Sandra Castro.
At CERES, which is also the name of the Roman Goddess for agriculture, education is the major theme, says Ms Castro. This is reflected by the on-site environmental and cultural education programmes offered to pre-school through to tertiary groups.
CERES run off-site programmes and are currently linked with over 270 schools throughout Victoria.
As a community centre, CERES is also about helping people break through cultural barriers. They offer international cooking classes, migrant training programmes and set up education villages from the likes of Indonesian, African or Aboriginal cultures. Volunteer workers try to ensure that multiculturalism in Australia is not lost, but respected.
While CERES's programme is unique in its range of programmes, the urban farm trend is catching on around Australia, with city farms sprouting up in almost every major city. There is the Northey Street City Farm in Brisbane, established in 1994, where an education centre and a Sunday morning farmers market are a popular retreat.
Although city farms are now a growing trend, it was not always a unified front.
"I didn't even know that CERES existed," said Rosanne Scott, initiator and director of a small park established in Perth in 1994, indicating her astonishment that she shared the same ideas manifested in Melbourne. "I was absolutely astonished when I saw CERES [back in the nineties] and what they did, that we were almost a carbon copy, but smaller."
Rod Simpson from the Sydney City Farm project believes the success of many of these "urban oases" is the manner in which they bring people together.
"People are yearning for a return to a simpler time, when growing food in our backyards was part of our lifestyle," he told The Epoch Times. "City farms bring people together to take part in sustainable urban living, including chemical-free gardening and wiser use of water and electricity."
But unlike in Melbourne and other states, the Sydney site is not yet a reality, with the proposed 62-hectare area in Rozelle still under council consideration.
It is also about feeling more connected with the community, says CERES' Ms Castro.
"What we're seeing now is the loss of connectedness...and CERES tries to create that connectedness again...help build that community again, because a lot of people are feeling isolated and separated."
Although there has been an increase in interest in city farms in the last decade, they are not entirely new. In London, for instance, Mudchute City Farm – the largest inner city farm and park in Europe – has existed since the seventies.
Located right in the heart of London this rural retreat covers over 30 acres of land and features an educational centre, wildlife area, horse riding, woodland and parkland with horses, pigs, rabbits, cows, sheep and goats, and even llama.
On the other side of the world in New York city farming has taken a different dimension yet again. A hydroponic barge on the Hudson River offers a fully organic agricultural retreat, with zero carbon emissions and using a quarter of the normal water supply to nurture the vegetable gardens that it houses.
But it is the words of Caitlin Clare from Brisbane's Northey Street City Farm that seem to sum up what urban farms are all about.
"It's a model of how to grow food and live sustainably in the city. It's all based on permaculture principles – which is care of the earth, care of the people and sharing the surplus. It's an inclusive place – everyone's welcome."