Small-scale organic farming in the region received a boost last month with news that the Victorian Government would back development of a unique, collaborative farming model.
Hugh and Katie Finlay of Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens have a plan. They want to establish an alliance of small organic farmers on their Harcourt property, all running different, but complementary, enterprises.
Katie describes it as the “perfect collision of a range of problems”.
“Small-scale organic farming is risky,” she says. “With all the risk and the expenses usually carried by a single family.”
“We’ve often wondered whether there’s a better way we could farm that would share the risks, but also make better use of the resources. There are lots of dedicated, passionate people out there who want to run their own farming business, but the barriers, especially buying land, are prohibitive.”
The Finlays also have a succession issue to solve. They want to keep their orchard in production but take a much less active role. Their children don’t want to come home and run the farm but they don’t want to sell.
The Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance would give small organic farmers the opportunity to lease acreage on the Finlay’s Harcourt property. The Finlays hope that will include someone to lease their orchard so they can step back, oversee the alliance and give more of their energy to their online teaching business, Grow Great Fruit.
Hugh and Katie already have a successful lease arrangement in place with a market garden (where the idea of the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance first began), and have now been joined by a micro-dairy and vermouth producer as they begin work on a Business Development Plan with backing from a $10,000 Regional Development Victoria grant.
They’ll use the funding and this development phase to lay the groundwork and establish the structure of the alliance. Investigating co-marketing opportunities, new products and how they can share resources to keep the cost of farming as low as possible.
“While there are lots of people share farming we don’t know of any arrangements with that extra layer of partnership agreement over the top,” says Katie.
“I’m a big believer in people owning their own business. I think you get much better buy in and people take it more seriously.”
Depending on the outcome of the development phase they hope to opt in to more funding for implementation and gain more partners.
“The environment is really changing,” says Katie. “The shift to alliances, collaborations and cooperatives is happening everywhere and both the State and Federal Governments have an appetite for funding these projects,” she says.
The business development plan will be completed by the end of the year and we look forward to seeing where it takes them.