Living in the city of London you might be forgiven for expecting never to encounter anything more rural than a pair of designer wellies. You’d be forgiven; but you’d be wrong. Because scattered all over the city, tucked away behind houses, car parks and office blocks, are a number of city farms. From Hounslow to Mudchute, there are tiny small-holdings and market gardens hidden in the most unlikely of places. Yes! Farms in London! Kentish Town’s city farm, for example, is surrounded by three different train lines, which weave beneath its collection of enclosures and allotments. There’s even a small group of goats which lives up above these railway tracks, scrambling over large concrete boulders, watching the trains go by (and probably pretending they live in a small Alpine village somewhere rather than in North London).
Goats are pretty standard inhabitants of London’s city farms, as are sheep, cows and pigs; from the large pink variety to a rather fetching pair of small, curly-haired, marbled individuals, called Edward and Jenny, who live at Vauxhall City Farm. (Also at Vauxhall lives a rather incongruous alpaca, some distance from his Latin American roots.) Ponds are also popular city farmyard features, usually inhabited by ducks of different shapes and sizes, and maybe the odd goose. Chickens often ramble freely, either by design or on occasion when accidentally let loose by an over-excited young visitor.
Most farms have ‘small animal’ areas too, which are a lot less intimidating for younger children than a large muddy pig or an over-friendly goat just dying to eat your coat. In areas outside London, where back gardens are more common, hutches of rabbits, guinea-pigs and even the odd chinchilla are nothing remarkable. But down here, where most of us live without the merest sliver of green lawn, we have to go to our city farms to see and stroke such furry friends. Freightliners Farm in Islington has built a lovely wooden town especially for its rabbits; although when I visited I found that a large tortoiseshell cat had moved into one of the colourfully-painted houses, kicked out the rabbity resident, and was curled up snoozing soundly on a bed of straw. Vauxhall City Farm boasts quite the most enormous bunnies ever seen, with velvety ears four or five inches long. (Vauxhall also sometimes has – as if to contrast the mega-bunnies – tiny, newborn guinea pigs which are utterly enchanting.)
Some farms offer an adoption service, whereby visitors can adopt their favourite animal, contributing financially to the upkeep of the farms and can swing by to visit their chosen pal from time to time. Freightliners Farm, which operates such a policy, does stress however that sometimes its adopted animals may be ‘retired out of London’ – rather like a weary former City banker who moves to a Cornwall cottage to grow roses when he’s done with the finance business. Most of London’s city farms are entirely free to visit, and survive on charitable donations, the help of generous volunteers, sponsorship and heritage funding.
Perfect for entertaining small children, or uprooted country-folk, check out one of our handpicked ‘Top 5’ below, and visit a city farm in London for yourself.
Vauxhall City Farm
165 Tyers Street, London, SE11 5HS
One of the most central farms in London – overlooking Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – Vauxhall City Farm is a charming little farm, home to everything from squeaking guinea pigs to a very fine alpaca called Jerry. Boasting a small stables as well, you can even learn to ride here. Started as a collaborative farming venture, Vauxhall City Farm has been around for 35 years and is still going strong thanks to plenty of loyal volunteers and community support.
Sheringham Road, London, N7 8PF
Up near Caledonian Road sits Freightliners Farm, founded on a scrap of wasteland behind Kings Cross in the early 1970s. Its unusual name is inspired by the old railway vans in which the farm’s first animals used to live; although these days they’re all tucked up safely in more standard pens and enclosures. Alongside plenty of farmyard creatures to meet, Freightliners also boasts a set of beehives (which produce local honey sold in the farm shop) and both ornamental and kitchen gardens which are the
perfect place to escape from the bustle of the city.
Hackney City Farm
1a Goldsmiths Row, London, E2 8QA
Hackney City Farm was established in 1984, offering educational opportunities to city dwellers who’d never experienced life in a more rural setting. Today, the farm is a popular community destination, which has even been known to host wedding receptions! Featuring its own cafe and shop (selling local produce), a ceramics studio and a bike repair shop, Hackney City Farm is worth a visit even if you’re not a huge fan of donkeys and ducks.
Spitalfields City Farm
Buxton Street, London, E1 5AR
Another central city farm, Spitalfields City Farm has a busy farmyard, which even hosts local festivals in celebration of some of its inhabitants; CowFest 2013 in March provided music (sorry, ‘moosic’!), food and drink and even cow-related gifts to raise funds to buy two more cows for the farm. If you can’t make it out to Spitalfields to visit their animals, they will come to you, via Spitalfields ‘Mobile Farm’; perfect for school visits or even birthday parties when another visit to the cinema just won’t do.
Surrey Docks Farm
Rotherhithe Street, London, SE16 5ET
In the shadow of the City of London’s skyscrapers sits 2.2 acres of wonderful green space and plenty of sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, goats…oh, you know the sorts of creatures you can expect by now! Alongside a cafe for hungry visitors, Surrey Docks Farm also has its very own working blacksmiths forge on the site, as well as offering a timetable of regular yoga classes on the farm.
Written by Flora Tonking of The Accidental Londoner