24 January 2024

After a hobby that will keep you happy, healthy and fed? Look no further than Dapto

| Zoe Cartwright
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Merete Donnelly, with a fabulous haul of cucumbers at the Dapto Community Farm.

Merete Donnelly, with a fabulous haul of cucumbers at the Dapto Community Farm. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Need a bit more zen in your life?

Just off the Princes Highway at Dapto you can be transported to a tranquil oasis, where bright dahlias bloom and fairy wrens chase each other through the greenery while a pair of miniature horses graze peacefully.

Dapto Community Farm has rented plots to anyone who’s interested in growing their own fruits, veggies or flowers for almost 20 years, and volunteer Merete Donnelly said the past season was one of their best.

READ ALSO Taste the joys and bitter disappointments of a wannabe veggie gardener

“This year we haven’t had fruit fly, we’ve had hardly any of the bad bugs and almost no diseases,” she said.

“The farm is a happy place.

“You feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere. I love seeing people and I don’t like going to clubs, so I come here instead!”

Miniature horses

These miniature horses have been keeping the grass down at the Dapto Community Farm for almost 20 years. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

When Merete arrived in Australia from Denmark as a 20-year-old she screamed at the sight of her first cockroach.

Now she cheerfully squashes bugs and snails underfoot if they threaten her crops – all part of the farm’s commitment to produce organic food.

The adjoining working farm is certified organic, and while the community plots aren’t certified, they stick to organic farming principles.

Chemicals are frowned upon, the soil is enriched with compost and worm castings, and crops are rotated to ensure good soil health.

It also ensures a bountiful harvest. While we wander along the rows Merete is kept busy harvesting cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes, chillies, pumpkins and dahlias.

Other gardeners do the same in their patches, although with different crops.

The plants represent the diverse backgrounds of the Illawarra community, and many first- or second-generation migrants have a plot to grow produce that tastes like home.

Kale, taro, corn, Vietnamese mint, okra, turmeric and ginger all thrive alongside one another.

The Dapto Community Farm

The Dapto Community Farm is divided into neat rows for gardeners to hire and tend to their heart’s content. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

“One woman hired a plot to grow all the flowers for her daughter’s wedding,” Merete said.

“It was absolutely beautiful.”

During lockdown, when most of us were desperate to get out of a house, there was a waitlist for plots.

Now life is back to normal, some spaces have opened up – the perfect opportunity for anyone who has run out of space at home, or who wants to try their hand at gardening in a supportive environment.

For the novice gardener, Merete said Peter Cundall’s two-page growing guide was the best and simplest way to get started.

READ ALSO Picking plants that will survive – and how to help yours thrive

“You do need to read a lot when you start, but there is so much help on the internet and in books,” she said.

“Don’t overwhelm yourself; keep it simple and easy and then later you will learn the nuances.

“A long time ago I made the mistake of companion planting carrots with something that produced nitrogen – well the carrots were tiny and the tops were huge!

“So I learnt, and people here help each other.”

In addition to offering garden plots for hire, the Dapto Community Farm is on the hunt for someone to run their weekly vegetable store. The only paid position at the farm, it requires someone who is savvy on social media, knows their plants, and is willing to put in early starts, make deliveries and run up to the Sydney markets for produce the Illawarra just doesn’t have the climate for.

The farm also sells seedlings and worm castings, so if you’re looking to enrich your garden, or your life, get in touch via their website, Dapto Community Farm, email [email protected] or call Merete on 0426 528 225.

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