Learn how to grow your own at Tocal Field Days this weekend

FRESH: Pumpkins are in season, says Amorelle Dempster, as well as broccoli, cabbage, beans, peas, kale and silverbeet. Picture: Simone De Peak

FRESH: Pumpkins are in season, says Amorelle Dempster, as well as broccoli, cabbage, beans, peas, kale and silverbeet. Picture: Simone De Peak

Living in suburbia doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own vegetables or herbs. Or enjoy eggs freshly laid by your own chickens. 

Interested? Then head to Tocal Field Days at picturesque Paterson this weekend and find out for yourself just how easy it is to start an urban or community garden.

Gardens have been popping up on pockets of land in back yards, front yards and school yards, street verges and vacant plots and Slow Food Hunter Valley founder Amorelle Dempster firmly believes a “food revolution” is under way. She will be sharing her gardening stories and more at Tocal on Saturday, May 6.

Ms Dempster, who also runs the Reader’s Cafe and Larder in East Maitland, said the concept was taking off across Australia, including in Western Australia where former prisoners were setting up the gardens as a means of re-entering the community in a meaningful way.

“Backyard and community gardens in urban areas can feed families, their neighbours, and also be a source of income for people wanting to sell their excess fresh produce to markets and eateries,” she told Food & Wine.  

At the Department of Primary Industries marquee children are welcome to get their hands dirty digging for vegetables that grow in soil, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots. This free activity is suitable for youngsters aged three to 15.

Children can also sow their own broad bean seed and take it home in a punnet where they can nurture it and eventually eat their own produce. The aim is to give children the opportunity to learn where vegetables come from before they end up on supermarket shelves.

The annual Bake or Burn competition is another Tocal highlight with educational value. Children have 20 minutes to prepare, cook and plate up their dishes while providing a commentary on their progress to a live audience.

Each year a specific ingredient is chosen to be the hero of the contestants’ dishes and this year it’s vegetables. They must be seasonal and sourced from the Hunter Region.

Last year’s junior chef winner, Oscar Affleck, 11, of East Maitland, will demonstrate his skills at the start of the heats on Sunday – hopefully inspiring more kids to get into the kitchen – and will then take his place on the judging panel.    

Tocal Field Days, May 5 to 7, is at Tocal Agricultural Centre, 815 Tocal Road, Paterson. 

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