Urban farmer

G Magazine

Urban sprawl is encroaching on farmland while the financial and environmental cost of fresh produce continues to rise. Stephen Mushin is on a mission to empower local communities and kick start food production within our cities.


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Taking a proactive approach to the food security crisis, designer and artist Stephen Mushin has been using his green thumbs to roll-out micro farms with CERES Environmental Park. In 2011, Mushin won a $10,000 grant from the British Council of Australia as part of the Big Green Idea project to design simple, lightweight, affordable and portable intensive food production systems for developing countries.

Mushin is passionate about growing vegetables. He applied for the Big Green Idea grant because he believes intensive urban farming has much more to offer.

“Urban agriculture is one of those areas where there’s a lot of talk, but there’s not a lot of activity happening on the ground… there’s not a lot of people showing systems that actually stack-up. The basic idea is to try to massively simplify technologies and develop something that is a fraction of the price and easy to use by communities here in urban or remote Australia, or overseas.”

To make technologies such as aquaponics more accessible, Mushin believes that they need to be simplified.

“The idea is to keep it super simple because a lot of the problems with intensive farming is you get into highly
technological systems that require significant management expertise and when one thing goes wrong the whole system breaks. There seems to be a lot of opportunity to develop very simple systems that work.”

While agreeing that not all food can be grown in dense areas – for example wheat – he describes the benefits of growing your own vegetables.

“The reason that urban agriculture makes sense, especially in Australia, is in the cities we have nutrient availability; so we have waste products, food scraps, human waste – and we’re currently wasting most of those things.

We also have water availability because we have impermeable surfaces such as rooftops and roads, which allow us to capture water. And we have the people who are eating the food. So, clearly it makes a lot of sense rather than trucking in food from across the world or a long way away within Australia.

If we can grow it closer to us there’s huge savings in transport emissions, which is a great thing for producing less greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mushin’s project is called The Origami Farm, and it complements his work with biologist Dr. Wilson Leonard at CERES putting ‘food hubs’ into schools and other community spaces. Mushin will further the ‘big picture’ perspective with his new project.

“I think a main challenge with urban food production is creating ideas that are transferable and using
appropriate technologies, because there’s a lot of sophisticated ways to farm – but are they really the best
way to do it, and are they transferable to situations where people are living in poverty or where people have
limited resources? A big part of this project is trying to work out what types of systems we can develop that people will be able to adopt and manage themselves and manage with locally available resources.”

Most of Mushin’s designs are sculptural in design. He tells G why he believes that aesthetics has an important role to play.

“Part of my work is that I really believe design needs to be inspiring, beautiful and exciting, so what I’ll be trying to do with The Origami Farm project is create something that is both functional, elegant and beautiful. So it’s not just about re-engineering where stuff comes from, it’s about inspiring and doing that with clever and beautiful designs.”

Visit www.biggreenidea.com.au for more information.