You know you’ve landed on a great find when your shoulders unhinge themselves from your ear lobes. Tucked behind the bustling lanes of Nicholson Street in Brunswick, by the banks of the Merri Creek, this little oasis of calm is one of Melbourne’s hidden gems.
Whether you’re a mum looking for a place to entertain your mini devils (and soothe your shattered nerves), a gardening enthusiast searching for a plot to call your own, or just someone wanting a lovely latte in a chilled space then CERES is the spot for you.
Old Landfill Site Becomes a Leader in Sustainability
It’s the story of a great reuse project. Built on a decommissioned landfill site that was once a bluestone quarry, CERES (Centre for Education & Research into Environmental Strategies) is now an award-winning, not-for-profit, sustainability centre and urban farm covering 4.5 hectares of Brunswick soil.
Recognised as a leader in community and environmental practices worldwide, CERES is popular locally for its organic market, café, nursery and Fair Food organic delivery program. On site practices demonstrate sustainable agriculture, renewables and water conservation in action.
It is also key in teaching sustainable practices to children through the Sustainable Schools program across the state of Victoria.
Flora, Fauna and Food
Entering the park from the main entrance on the corner of Roberts and Stewart Streets, you’ll find a great well-stocked nursery with a wonderful selection of fresh herbs, plants and flowers for your garden. The staff here are more than happy to help you choose the right plant or soil for your needs and will happily explain how to manage your purchases if you’re a total gardening noob.
On the same level as the nursery is The Merri Table & Bar, which caters for all types of functions. They offer seasonal menus showcasing the organic produce grown on site, as well as locally grown and low-mileage produce from within Victoria.
Following the winding path down further into the grounds, you’ll find the organic market, which is open most mornings, and sells produce grown on the CERES allotments. It is really reasonably priced, and always tastes great.
Beside the market, you won’t be able to miss the chook enclosure. Here they keep 250 Isa Brown laying hens, all called Hazel. It’s a great pitstop for parents with small children, who can spend as long as they like tormenting the mild-mannered chooks – although, poking and prodding the poor things is discouraged.
Here, you’ll also find a cosy corner café, which holds live music sessions every Wednesday morning, making this a good stop for parents wanting a caffeine top-up and somewhere to entertain the troops.
CERES onsite shop sells canned and dried goods – mostly organic – and has an excellent (and cheap) refill station for your oats, nuts, household cleaners, liquids and detergents.
Descending into the park you’ll see various installations and educational facilities – a lot of local schools use the park to teach the next generation about green technologies and how to harvest energy from the elements. A wind generator towers over the buildings on the upper edge of the site, and various vernacular structures are dotted around the park, with explanations of each attached to placards outside so anyone can learn on little on their visit.
Park the Kids in the Playground and Pull Up a Pew
Impressive rows of vegetables and other produce line the paths to the main café, which sits in the centre of the park. It has a large covered over area – fantastic for hot sunny days, although it’s equally good when you’re caught out by Melbourne’s changeable weather.
Most of the fare from the café is basic, but tasty. They do the best tofu and pumpkin rolls – or as I call them, veggie sausage rolls – yep, it’s hard to convert a carnivore, but trust me, these are good.
There is always a great selection of homemade cakes, and if you’re looking for something a little more exciting than coffee, there is a tiny collection of organic beers and wines to choose from, too.
CERES really is a winner for those with kids. Parents can shake off the shackles for a while, safe in the knowledge that their little cherubs can’t get up to too much mischief… for the most part. Perched on a steep hill right beside the café is a great adventure playground.
An igloo-style handbuilt hut sits mid-hill, and a treehouse made of twigs and bicycle wheels overlooks the whole park. Nearby an old wooden boat provides plenty of opportunity for imaginative play, and a small sandpit keeps all ages happy. The only thing you have to do is sit back, relax and hope nobody breaks a bone on your watch!
During the summer, CERES often holds mini festivals on the grassy areas near the café, and features an intriguing array of workshops and music session on a regular basis. The bike maintenance station and workshop is especially popular with locals as CERES is accessible from the bike path that runs along the Merri Creek.
If you’re only visiting Melbourne for a short time, I urge you to take a trip to the northern suburbs and get lost for a while in CERES. So many people head south to the beaches and backpacker areas of Melbourne that it is often missed, which is a shame.
Take the 96 tram and get off at the corner of Nicholson Street and Blyth Road. Walk about 100 metres down Blyth Road and you’ll see a sign post to the park on your left. For further directions, see CERES website.
Although the café and markets have certain closing times, the actual park is open during day light hours, and is always FREE to enter.
Do you have a great environmental park near you? Please share it with us and our readers in the comments. Thanks.