CERES Nursery: Educating for food security

ceres nursery: educating for food security

Amongst the lines of traffic, the car horns and rows of apartment buildings in Melbourne’s Brunswick East, there is a small nursery nestled into the banks of the Merri Creek. It’s a little refuge filled with crisp air, bright foliage and friendly faces. In a time when you can buy garlic from 12,000km away in Chile, and eat shiny, sticker-clad apples all year round, there is a community within the city that does things a little differently, a community that chooses not to depend upon supermarket giants and international trade. Rather, they use their own hands to secure access to nutritious food.

I caught up with the manager of this green haven, Laurel Coad, to chat about food security and the role that CERES Permaculture and Bushfoods Nursery play in this issue.

Laurel describes food security as having access to nutritious produce, not just on an individual level, but as an entire community. In Australia, we are privileged to have access to an abundance of resources.

But, as Laurel outlines, “We waste so much and we throw so much food out, and we water our gardens with drinking water! We live in this luxurious land, and we take it for granted that it’s always going to be available in such abundance.”

It’s easy to become complacent about these issues when you live in a society that is constantly stocked with an overabundance of food. Since industrialisation, Australians have evolved to not need the skills or knowledge to grow their own produce. But, as Laurel describes, this may not continue to be the case. With the growing threat of climate change and the increase in frequency and ferocity of natural disasters, the access to nutritious, organic produce may not be as secure as some might think.

Laurel uses Cuba as an example. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba was cut off from 50% of its oil imports, 85% of its trade, and much of its access to food [1]. The use of cars and transportation stopped almost overnight, and thousands of Cubans went hungry. To most of the country’s population, growing their own food became a necessity of survival.

“The community gardens of Cuba are famous because they had to grow their own food in an urban area with poor soil. They had to start from scratch.” Laurel Coad

To the staff of CERES Nursery, teaching the community to grow their own produce with the resources and space they have available is of great importance. Since the opening of the nursery in 1996, the workers have emphasised the importance of using whatever resources customers have available to grow their gardens. The nursery staff are aware that many of the customers in their community have differing resources and available space, so they cater their advice according to each individual situation. Laurel explains that an important part of the ethos of CERES Nursery is education. As the manager, she makes sure that her staff approach their educational advice in a holistic manner, and always advocate natural and organic gardening methods as these produce food with a greater nutritional value.

“If somebody asks for a spray for their aphids, we ask, why do they have aphids? Is the plant in the right position, have they been sprayed before? So we actively deter people from spraying and using chemical products.”

Cultivating a sense of community is also extremely important to the nursery in creating a space for everyone to feel inspired and confident in the garden.

“I feel like we belong to the community… We see kids grow up coming into the nursery over the years and families change and grow,” says Laurel. Because the nursery is a part of a not-for-profit organisation, customers have developed a deep sense of trust with the nursery.
“We have this place in the community that is one of mutual respect and mutual trust. People want to support us because we add something special.”

With this sense of closeness and trust, CERES nursery has been able to encourage its customers to grow edible food and learn farming techniques, which are a valuable asset to have in the current volatile climate situation.

As the nursery is located within inner Melbourne, much of the advice to customers revolves around growing food in an urban setting such as small backyards, balconies or community gardens. “We encourage people to look at what you can grow in small spaces. You don’t need half an acre or a farm, you can grow a lot with clever planning and good design,” says Laurel.

“For now, food security is just enjoyable and fun, but I think there will come a time when it’s actually important. There’s a real complacency about it in Australia because food is cheap and there’s so much of it. I think we’re in danger of being too complacent.”
In a time of global uncertainty, CERES Nursery offers the community a place of tranquility, the tools for growing your own food, and warm, friendly smiles.

By Lucy Dowling-Brown, CERES Communications Intern

[1] Miller, Shawn William. “Cuba’s Latest Revolution” In An Environmental History of Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.


Corner of Roberts & Stewart Streets, Brunswick East, VIC 3057
(03) 9389 0111
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