The city gardening project that’s saving the planet and the people on it
9 December 2019 at 8:42 am
Chris Ennis is the founder of CERES Fair Food, where he not only manages Melbourne’s fairest grocery store but is helping urban Melbournians use their shopping dollar for good. He’s this week’s Changemaker.
Becoming the organic market manager at CERES wasn’t something Ennis had planned on, but he might have been the best person that could have fallen into the job.
His work collaborating with local urban farmers, starting social enterprises that provide employment opportunities for asylum seekers, promoting more sustainable aquaponic farming, and then eventually with Fair Food, Melbourne’s most popular online grocery, has helped CERES flourish as an organisation and increase its impact.
CERES is a community hub stretching across five acres of land that brings together all walks of life through its education, agriculture, social enterprise and community programs to help everyone who walks through the doors to live a more sustainable, and community-based lifestyle.
Ennis was recently recognised for his efforts as an AMP Tomorrow Maker.
In this week’s Changemaker Ennis discusses his accidental journey to the social change sector, what the future of CERES looks like, and everyday things we can do to help the planet and ourselves.
You grew up with a farming and general store background, how did that lead you to where you are now?
I grew up in the country, and one side of my family were farmers, and the other side were the town’s general store owners. I tried really hard to diverge away from my family businesses and went to uni in Melbourne to study arts, communications and media. I then got into landscaping and permaculture and tried to pull them all together with community gardening.
That led me to CERES, and I realised that I could do all those sorts of things from my background together in one place. Someone then asked me to look after the social enterprise grocery that we run for a month. They never came back, and so I was left with a business. It all happened really quickly and was a bit of an accident really.
The organisation has an extensive history, how have you managed the growth of the organisation?
I see myself and the team as the children that have inherited the farm from those first environmental educators and pioneers who started the farm almost 40 years ago now.
We were the ones who came along second as those eager young twenty-somethings and started lending a hand, and it’s now been left to us to lead the organisation and then hand it on again. So we are standing on the shoulders of those first people who saw the environment as something that really needed to be taken care of and educated children by getting them out of the classroom and helping them reconnect with the land.
I think our main contribution has been to grow our social enterprises and really educate people in a way that they can use their shopping dollar quite powerfully in the way they spend their money on groceries or plants or spend money on workshops where you can learn a skill that is going to do good for the world.
What does an average day for you look like?
I work at the Fair Food Warehouse, which is located in an industrial estate in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, away from the glamorous and beautiful park in Melbourne where the farm is.
There’s about 50 people that work in the warehouse and my day usually involves talking to and mentoring farmers that run a CERES market garden, people who have micro greens businesses and people that are part of our CERES Fair Wood.
I look at how we are going to get the message out around wood and how we’re going to let people know that the wood that they’re using might be taken from Southeast Asia or from the Amazon. There might be illegal logging taking from Indigenous communities and adding to deforestation. And how can we talk to them about the alternatives that will be grown on farms and that kind of thing. So it’s those sort of conversations around helping these young managers push their businesses and make them really successful social enterprises.
What are you hoping CERES looks like in 10 years?
Our main activity is education, and there are 300,000 school kids that get some kind of education from CERES every year. The organisation is really conscious that we’re going through a climate emergency and an ecological crisis at the moment and the call on us is to deepen and broaden the work that we do.
Our hope for CERES is that in 10 years we have a new school called the School of Nature and Climate that will be able to offer much deeper education services for children and adults and career paths for green jobs. It will offer a different way of teaching, living and interacting with community that really ties in things like Indigenous knowledge and social ecology. It’s the sort of approach to environment that really takes what’s happening with our climate and our environment seriously. We also see all the social enterprises that we’ve built around it contributing towards that as well.
How has your job changed your outlook on the world?
I think it’s incredibly positive to be part of an organisation that requires you to do good. The mission of the organisation is to help people fall in love with the earth again and to have that as your mission and start talking about things like love is quite different from most workplaces. To be able to talk about that in a very upfront way and talk about those kinds of things and take that approach to the earth is challenging, but it’s also incredibly freeing. It’s asking us to do creative things and take creative approaches and risks.