The farmer next door


On a standard surburban block in Melbourne, Simeon Hanscamp is growing enough food to provide his local community with vegie boxes—and himself with an income. Anna Cumming visited him to find out what it takes to be a successful backyard farmer.

Backyard fruit and vegie gardening is enduringly popular in Australia; one 2014 study found that 52% of Australian households reported growing at least some of their own food at home. Most of us—especially those who live in urban areas—stick to a few herbs and some tomatoes, or at most a handful of fruit trees and a productive vegie patch. But with a bit of determination and a suitable site, the potential is there to scale food production up to ‘backyard farming’.

One young entrepreneur in Melbourne has done just that. Both front and back yards of the rental house Simeon Hanscamp shares with two housemates in West Heidelberg, 10 kilometres north-east of the city centre, are laid out in neat, regular-sized garden beds, in which he grows greens and other vegetables. “I have about 220 square metres of growing space, and it produces $200 to $400 worth of food per week, depending on the season,” says Simeon. He sells it to neighbours via a ‘farm gate’ box at the front of the property, and through a vegie box scheme: his subscribers—15 to 20 local families—either collect their weekly boxes from the house, or pay a little extra for bike delivery. Recently, he’s also started attending the weekly farmers’ market at Melbourne University.

Getting started as a backyard farmer
Simeon’s backyard farm is the result of careful research and planning. He got the gardening ‘bug’ when he was involved in starting up a compost heap during his gap year; a few years later he spent time working at Transition Farm, a market garden on the Mornington Peninsula. “It was the best food I ever ate,” he remembers, “and I developed more of an interest in soil biology and so on.”

He also discovered ‘community supported agriculture’ (CSA). “Transition Farm’s CSA program means that around 100 families commit up front to buying weekly food boxes. The farm has a bit more financial security that way and planning production is easier. Typically recipients are also more involved in the story of where their food comes from.”

Inspired to become a farmer, Simeon spent three and a half years researching and learning, and developing his own business idea. “I wanted to be near family and also my partner’s city workplace, so the big question for me was how do I juggle proximity to the city with farming? The answer was urban farming.”

Read the full article in ReNew 144.

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