Pigs, cows, and goats are not animals you usually expect to see in Edinburgh.
However, these are precisely the kind of creatures you can gaze upon at Gorgie City Farm, a place known for a major crowdfunding appeal and a classic political blooper.
Located a stone’s throw from Hearts FC’s Tynecastle base in the west of the city and run largely on donations, the city farm’s day-to-day work is run by a small group of volunteers in casual clothes and wellington boots, often with buckets or hay bales to hand. There are no straw blades chewed or Burberry caps around here.
The animals roam through their grassy enclosures on one side, while, in another, greenhouses and recently laid soil banks for plants show early signs of promise. You could almost think you were in a rural area, were it not for the blare of sirens and trains whooshing nearby.
The city farm, which has been running since 1982, appears to have captured the hearts of its neighbouring city-dwellers. When it launched an urgent donation appeal in 2016 after external funding sources withdrew, the crowdfunder raised a staggering £100,000 in just six weeks. This gave the charity the jump-start it needed to get into the sound financial position it is now in.
Modern city farm projects began to grow in popularity in the 1970s, in response to the growing urbanisation of towns and cities. Today, there are more than 120 city farms and school farms in the UK, as well as hundreds of similar small-scale community garden projects.
On the day I visit, the sun bellows across the landscape. The green grass and scattered trees creates a nice, earthy smell. The animals are enclosed but they have enough room to wander and, as two goats called Skye and Breagh did, roll around and relax in the sun.
Many visitors are eager children, egged on by parents and older siblings. One little girl was so excited by the goats, calmly bemused by the spectacle, she couldn’t get her words out, instead blasting out a ‘buh-buh-buh’ and shouting in delight.
The reaction from visitors, if TripAdvisor reviews are anything to go by, is generally positive. One user described the city farm as “a unique, under-rated attraction at the heart of Edinburgh”, while another called it “the perfect place to spend a few hours and support local farms”.
I meet one of the supervisors, keys jangling from her pocket of her dark trousers, as she tends to the ducks waddling in and out of their metal box.
“I’ve been working here for three and a half years. I can’t imagine leaving this place now, I love it.”
She admits the amount of space the animals have is not ideal but is not concerned by the city surroundings.
“I’ve gotten used to the noise — and so have the animals, actually.”
As I go up the stony pathway to the traditional farmyard animals, I see something familiar.
This is the spot where two amorous pigs famously upstaged Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie in the 2016 Holyrood election campaign, just as he gestured to them and said: “We like to organise our visits to send a message, in pictorial terms, exactly what we’re asking for, and I think this does it very well today.”
Ironically, I caught the two cows, Popcorn & Peanut, trying to have their own ‘pig in a poke’ in their enclosure nearby.
I ask if this incident is still a talking point for visitors today.
“Yes, we get asked about that all the time. It was a proud moment for us,” she laughs.
As well as selling their produce, the farm’s animals are raised for meat production, but animal welfare is an issue the city farm’s operators take seriously. I ask if she is OK with this.
“I’m actually very fine with that,” she says.
“The thing is, though, when you go into a supermarket, you have no idea how that animal’s been treated. When people buy something from here, I know the animals have been well looked after.
“I actually have a friend who’s vegan, and obviously she’s not very happy about it, but, you know, that’s life.”
Rural-dwellers may well wonder what the point of all this is. As the city farm’s website points out, its purpose is to “bring the sounds, smells and sights of rural Scotland into the city”.
Some Edinburgh residents, the supervisor tells me, almost never leave the city, still less find time to see the work that goes into making their morning eggs, their bacon sandwiches, and their beefburgers — and some, arguably, need the education.
“It’s not just the kids that ask awkward questions. We once had a woman here who thought boneless chicken lived like that, as chicken without any bones.”
Gorgie City Farm is open daily, 9.30am-4.30pm, during the summer months. Boneless chickens are not included.