Clockwise from top left: Cara Edwards; Thank you note; Winter seedlings coming soon; Tomato chutney; Roadside stall. Photos by Cara Edwards
Cara Edwards rents a flat in the heart of Hobart and, despite not owning land or having much space, she has become an urban farmer, using her own small backyard and other pockets of land she has borrowed from friends. She sells her produce from a bookcase converted into a roadside stall, on the footpath outside her inner-city flat. I spoke to Cara about her life there.
When my partner Fin and I met, a few years ago, we were both facing the age-old problems of finding ethical work, rising property prices and securing a loan. Last year we leased a tiny flat in the inner-city suburbs of Hobart, Tasmania, and started on our plan to grow a whole lot of food, make a little money and live a productive, home-based lifestyle.
The flat has a small, east-facing communal space, and an even smaller north-facing courtyard. Our landlord and friend Mike had the brilliant foresight to plant productive trees, and we were fortunate to inherit a smorgasbord of cool-climate fruits. Although – as renters – our gardening endeavours are constrained, we’ve: dug up every centimetre of lawn; covered the concrete with pots; installed removable worm farms along the south-facing fence, and a freestanding hothouse that we borrowed from a friend; grown pumpkins up teepees; strung tomatoes from the clothesline; and completely filled the tiny little area.
And what next?
The garden was delightful and wallaby free (a perk of city living) but temporary, and we still didn’t have enough space to grow all of our vegetables for the spring and summer. So we decided to expand. With the help of friends we have established a network of spaces. From our Sandy Bay flat we grow our salad greens, herbs and annuals, and have a spattering of established fruit trees. We also keep our chickens and seedlings here, as they need constant care.
At our friend Polly’s place we keep hardier crops such as artichokes, garlic and potatoes, and some annuals; we visit there every few days to water, but can also rely on her to give them a drink if need be. Our friend’s paddock in Cygnet is home to our 150 asparagus plants, cider orchard, a whole heap of garlic and potatoes.
To complement our endeavours, I was inspired by Shannon Hayes’ book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (Finch Publishing 2011) to create a homebased lifestyle, and taught myself skills, to save and make money. My main cash flow is through freelance graphic design, an old university degree I half finished before the lure of growing food dragged me away; it took some googling to freshen up my knowledge, but technology is a great tool for self-teaching. I also sell composting worms, write a little, weed and manage Mike’s Airbnb in exchange for subsidised rent. Staying at home allows me to water the garden, bake a loaf of bread in the morning, forage for food (mostly from our neighbours’ trees), mend our work pants, ensure we have enough to eat, bottle the summer fruits and fix all that is broken.
Midway through spring we were starting to produce a lot of good food, and our hothouse was pumping with grafting experiments, cuttings and plants we had collected in our travels. I thought it would be fun to start a little roadside shop with an honesty box, the sort of thing you see down country lanes but, of course, we plonked ours on the street, in the suburbs. We bolted a toolbox to an old bookcase and put it out with some herbs and leafy greens, and a bunch of milk bottles filled with worm juice. Later additions to the inventory include: seedlings, cut flowers, packets of saved seed, chutney and various fruits and vegetables.
How did it go?
We made $8 on the first day, and I was ecstatic: if we could make $8 every day it would cover the cost of our internet! But as summer set in the reputation of our little shop grew, and sometimes I’d open the toolbox to find $40 and a note of thanks; sometimes I’d find only 50c. I’d paint cute signs, chat to our neighbours, leave growing tips for passers-by and hear some brilliant stories. More recently, proceeds have allowed us to pay our electricity bill for the winter and the car registration for a whole year, and buy weekly home supplies.
Our lifestyle is a tad chaotic, and always a work in progress. It’s not for everyone, but it does allow us to engage in an ethos that’s fun and rewarding, but may seem off limits to renters.