Pandemic sees Sydneysiders turning to urban farm to buy fresh produce

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian urban farm in the heart of downtown Sydney has seen an upsurge in demand for its produce during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Pocket City Farms, just five kilometres from Sydney’s Central Business District, opened in 2016 after being transformed from a lawn bowling club. It aimed to demonstrate how food could be grown in a crowded city on unused land.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Pocket City sold to local restaurants, wholefoods distributors and “Ooooby” – a community vegetable mix box delivered weekly to people’s homes.

But with COVID-19 restrictions closing restaurants and Ooooby’s demand for vegetables becoming too large for the farm during social isolation, Pocket City is selling more to the public to keep the farm operating.

“We’ve now built that from maybe selling maybe two online orders a fortnight, we’ve got 25 to 30 a week,” Pocket City Farms General Manager Heather McCabe told Reuters on Wednesday.

The farm sells vegetables and salad greens like snow peas, carrots, basil, zucchini and chillies, that turn over in the soil quickly on the market garden’s 1,200 square metres.

McCabe also said that she is getting lots of requests from customers asking for seedlings to start their own backyard farms at a time when food provisions are stretched.

“People growing their food in their backyard, it’s just booming at the moment,” McCabe said.

Australia has credited a partial lockdown and testing with bringing the rate of new infections down to below 1%. Home to 26 million people, the country has recorded about 6,700 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 88 deaths.

Some states and territories have begun to ease restrictions independently, including allowing slightly larger public gatherings and reopening beaches. But the federal government said there will not be any changes before a review on May 11.

Reporting by James Redmayne in Sydney; Editing by Giles Elgood