Walking into Hackney City Farm brace yourself. You’ll probably be welcomed not by an old farmer, or a member of staff. Here, the poultry like to introduce themselves face to face.
Ducks, chickens and, yes, pigeons have free reign within the small courtyard at the farm’s entrance. A brute of a chicken I immediately named Mick Jagger (due to an uncanny strut and self confidence) felt the need to assert his authority by charging towards me then stopping to flick his head in a dramatic turn of direction.
‘ ‘It’s your big bag,’’ said one of the volunteer workers at the farm. ‘’He thinks it’s food’’.
Whilst being small, the Hackney City Farm still has the same variety of animals you might expect to find on a normal country farm, just in a smaller quantity. There’s the resident pig which sits by itself then there’s a much larger area with a pony, three goats and three sheep, all pen-sharing together.
The farm has been on Hackney Road for 25 years and has plenty of volunteer workers. Because it is well known locally, the farm has many applications from people to work there are volunteers. They are a mixed bunch of people – most live locally and often referred there by bodies like social services and job centres, a move that could help improve Hackney’s typically low unemployment figures.
Aside from the volunteer workers, Hackney City Farm has a number of fixed term workers who either manage the farm or work in the Frizzante Café, which has three skilled Italian chefs from different regions of Italy on site daily. The cafe has become enormously popular with locals and in 2004 won Best Family Restaurant in London’s TimeOut Awards.
Whilst Mick the chick and his cronies guard their domain as if staging a revolution set to rival Napoleon of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the farms’ pig lay slumped in the corner of its sty quite happy to let the birds take over his home too. This easy going atmosphere is apparent throughout the whole farm, with pens enabling children to get up close and personal with the animals. Sarah, local mother, from Stoke Newington, said that she regularly came to the farm with her two children. ‘’The hutches and the sheep pens are their favourites’’ she said.
According to Charlie Ferrell, the volunteer and education coordinator on the farm, working there is ‘‘excellent because of the wide range of stuff available’’. He adds: ‘Lots of [young people] obviously living in the Hackney area haven’t seen chickens or sheep before’’.
During the summer holidays, there are plenty of opportunities for the kids of all ages to get involved at the farm. There are regular sheep shearing shows and a children’s pottery workshop every Tuesday from 4pm-6pm. Not only this but there’s also an Agriturismo night every Thursday, organised by the cafe, which brings rustic Italian food and music to East London.
The Hackney City Farm is only one of several farms in the East London Lines area offering great activities throughout the summer. Spitalfields City Farm has just become the first urban farm in the country to be accredited by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust because of its work with rare breeds such as the Golden Guernsey goats and North Ronaldsay sheep. Among summer events, the famr offers a great pick and cook session on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month, between 11am and 2pm.
At Mudchute City Farm, on the wide open spaces of the Isle of Dogs, it’s not just about animals – there is an over 50’s Music and Singing club every Tuesday from 2pm to 4.30pm.
Elsewhere in Tower Hamlets, the Stepping Stones Farm and Rural Crafts Centre in Stepney Green, which also relies solely relies on volunteer workers, and has been giving local people the chance to experience the rural lifestyle for thirty years by allowing residents to grow their own vegetables. Just on the edge of the East London Lines area, the Surrey Docks farm in Rotherhithe also has a Frizzante Café open Wednesday to Sunday only. The farm offers a fun way of getting the animals to children in schools – a visit from the mobile farm, which includes goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks, rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets.
All the farms in East London are a lot of fun, offer opportunities to get a farm experience right in the heart of the city and, best of all, there is free entry for all of them… And I’m sure that Mick’s looking forward to seeing you down at Hackney City Farm!
By Amy Lacey