Canadian girl living and loving Melbourne. Mum, freelance writer and chaser of all experiences worth talking about.
Published April 7th 2014
On the prowl for somewhere new to take the kids for a day of wonder, discovery and fresh air? Then head to CERES Community Environment Park, a not for profit sustainability education centre and urban farm located on 4.5 hectares of rehabilitated landfill, nestled in the inner urban pocket of East Brunswick. CERES stands for Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies. For a relative sustainability novice like myself, I never expected to fall in love with the place but my four year old and I were completely enchanted, we can't wait to go back. This hidden, country-style gem truly has the feel of a secret garden. The kids are guaranteed to enjoy themselves, learn a ton of new information and, much to parents' delight, it's FREE!
This 'eco-oasis' hosts over 350,000 people annually and it's just one big thriving community that you'd never know was there. On their website, CERES says 'Come, be welcome, you never know what you will find on our rambling paths.' It couldn't be more true. It's an incredible place for kids - not only will it spark their interest in sustainable gardening, it's also a beautiful, magical place full of weird and wonderful surprises around every corner, especially when seen through the eyes of a child. Gardeners, volunteers, staff and regulars are all part of the furniture at CERES and there's a strong sense of community, cooperation and passion for sustainability. Even if you're new to that world like myself, the feel is overwhelmingly welcoming, friendly and warm.
So what can you do at CERES? Plenty. Just wandering around is more than enough, checking out the expansive grounds that boast meandering pathways calling your name, free range chook areas, open communal garden areas, smaller eclectic garden plots, windmills, quirky buildings, open grassy areas, cobblestone seating, mosaic art and the view looking down at the Merri Creek.
After your walk, there's plenty more to uncover. I'd start at the cafe.
Cafe and playground Who can resist indulging in a lazy, lingering weekend lunch when the kids have plenty to keep them occupied and safe in the adjacent playground? The CERES cafe is nestled at the bottom of a roaming hill with plenty of towering trees, offering a unique, rustic dining experience. You can choose to sit at one of the many tables on their covered verandah or out in the garden under the shade of the many trees listening to the chattering birds. The food is divine. My favourites were the sausage roll (served warm with a beautiful tomato kassindi and salad) and the slow cooked beans with goats cheese on sourdough toast. And of course, essential for any Melbourne cafe experience, the coffee is lovely. All food served at the CERES cafe is prepared and cooked on site, and 90% of the food on the menu is certified organic, with as much as possible coming directly from the CERES garden. There's also a good kids menu with very reasonable prices. From the cafe seating areas, you can watch your kids playing in the adjacent playground, complete with a peek a boo secret cave, a very distinctive treehouse and a classic sandpit with tons of toys. Lots to explore in a safe, visible and stimulating environment.
Market Day CERES hosts their notorious Market Day Wednesdays through to Sundays (hours vary), offering an unbeatable atmosphere to soak up. It has a vibrant, family-friendly and very community oriented feel to it - everyone is welcome, there's no feeling 'lost in the crowd'. Luscious, fresh organic produce sourced locally (a lot comes from the CERES gardens), live music filling the air and beautiful crafts stalls to check out. And I even picked up my eggs for the week, freshly laid from CERES own 260 free range organic chooks. CERES Market Days: 9am - 5pm 7 days a week.
The CERES Nursery After experiencing CERES, I guarantee you'll suddenly spawn a green thumb and feel properly inspired to grow some herbs for the garden or even start your own veggie patch. So head to the stunning CERES Nursery, a grande wonder within itself that entertained my four year old to no end. The dozens upon dozens of organic plants so charmingly presented not only create a secret garden to be thoroughly explored, they also provide a wealth of information about sustainability as they're grown under the principles of permaculture, the development and maintenance of agricultural ecosystems that are intended to be sustainable and self sufficient. The nursery is a feature of CERES not to be missed. Leave yourself ample time to chat to the knowledgeable staff about what plants will work best in your space. And the kids can have a chat to the free roaming chickens with plenty of personality who call the nursery home.
Environmental Commitment CERES is committed to consuming less resources in everything they do. Through a myriad of diverse community education initiatives, including on and off site excursions and programs for all age ranges, they strive to raise awareness on energy reduction. They're an undeniable powerhouse and hands down leader in the sustainability community. There's no other place like it in Melbourne or Australia. As you stroll through the CERES property, and as your eyes fall upon endless examples of their 'green technology' - windmills, solar panelled roofing, solar powered vehicles, to name a few, you just know they've got it all figured out. There's so much practical information to absorb at CERES, but it's also about the broader environmental concepts young people pick up while immersed in a place like this. The CERES experience teaches kids about caring for plant life, responsible ecology, the many different forms sustainability takes, the immediate community working together for greater purpose, and the hard work it takes to evoke and maintain meaningful environmental change.
What else is happening at CERES? When I took my son to CERES, we didn't take one of their guided tours but they offer plenty of them in various formats, as well as a range of informative workshops and even short courses for interested folks. There's also a visitor centre close the entrance that provides plenty of information about the place to make the CERES experience more worthwhile. CERES also offers up their many on-site spaces and places to the community for hire. If you're looking for a community commercial kitchen for hire 7 days a week, CERES has it. The Merri Table, located on the CERES premises, is a catering and function venue accommodating 80 people available for hire. Their Van Raay Centre has a range of meeting rooms for use. The Village Green outdoor space is perfect for community events and festivals. The Learning Centre caters to meditation groups, yoga classes and workshops. The CERES website has a very eclectic events calendar, presenting a huge range of community events all hosted on-site at CERES but delivered by external organisations.