The CERES project started 30 years ago this year when a group of volunteers approached the then Brunswick City Council wanting to start a community garden and chook group next to the Merri Creek. The site chosen in East Brunswick was originally a bluestone quarry.
When the volunteers were given approval, they began one of the first community gardens in Melbourne called CERES, which stands for Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Studies. The centre is still largely a volunteer organisation although there are paid managers, such as my friend Nick Curmi, who co-ordinate aspects of the site. Today CERES is an inner-city green oasis that has more than four hectares of sustainable gardens and green technology.
There is a hectare of CERES market gardens in production further up the creek from the community garden, and another area of certified organic vegetables growing on the actual site. Certified organic production means the produce and the soils produced by a grower are independently tested to ensure no chemicals or contaminants are present.
Fruit trees are everywhere and there is a large aquaponics shed on the other side of the Merri Creek. Aquaponics is where a number of tanks are set up so the water in each tank circulates into the next one. Fish or other aquatic life are grown in one tank, and vegies in another. The fish fertilise the water before it flows into the vegie tank, and the vegies filter the water before it flows back into the fish tank, thus forming a mutually beneficial relationship. The benefits of aquaponics production are that it's organic and the process is similar to nature. Trout as well as vegies are grown at the CERES aquaponics shed.
CERES has 300 laying chickens on site. There is a program where people with intellectual disabilities look after the 300 chickens, and contribute to the packing and delivery of the eggs to market.
A fruit and vegie farmers market is held on site twice a week for the public. Farm produce is also ordered from other local certified organic farms and distributed from CERES to households and corporations as boxed items. This means the product is cheaper for the buyer as wholesalers and retailers are avoided.
The centre bustles with creative energy. Any new environmental technology that becomes available to the public is researched and tested out at CERES. The centre boasts three different wind turbines, 350 solar panels, an electric vehicle charging station and solar thermal and biogas electricity plants. It also has rainwater harvesting systems, a grey water treatment plant and various other environmental solutions.
Funding constraints mean most of the CERES paths are not sealed. But there are a number of toilets for people who use wheelchairs. Because the project began as a community farm, but has evolved into a public park recreation zone, the original emphasis was on food production rather than disability access. All buildings however at CERES are wheelchair accessible.
CERES has delivered about 70,000 educational programs to school kids, and there are many social programs in place as well. There is a weekly program working with the Deaf community, a youth-at-risk program, and a kids program in the playground next to the café. Parents can relax over a coffee and keep an eye on their kids at the same time.
CERES is a not-for-profit venture so any money gained from the organisation goes straight back into the project. Contributions in the form of donations and government grants also help it to continue. The centre has won many awards, and is the largest deliverer of environmental education in Australia. About 350,000 people visit the site each year and it is a must visit for any person interested in a sustainable future.