Celebration and business growth (and how to combine the two)

Our first ever bushdance (called the Gung Hoe Down) will be held on the farm next Saturday (28th) along with a mighty harvest feast to mark the end of an incredibly successful season.

It’s the brainchild of the inimitable Mel and Sas from Gung Hoe Growers, and they’ve put heaps of planning into it, from organising an excellent local band known for calling a good dance tune, to designing a delicious menu based on food grown here on the farm, to sourcing local wine and cider to sell at the event.

As the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance (HOFA) continues to take shape, feasting and celebration has been one of the consistent themes that shows up on everyone’s ‘wishlist’ of what they want out of being part of this farming collective, so we hope it becomes an annual event – or even better, just one on our calendar of celebrations!

But there’s another reason the Gung Hoes are putting so much effort into creating a fabulous event. We’ve watched in awe as they’ve built their business rapidly over the 3years since they started, doubling and then redoubling the size of their patch, and steadily building up their customer base.

They’ve applied themselves to the back-breaking work with diligence, grit and barrow-loads of determination, doing everything by hand because they haven’t had access to equipment.

 

But like so many small businesses just starting out, they’ve been doing it on a shoestring, particularly as part of their mission statement is to provide affordable food to local people, which has meant they’ve kept their prices very sensible.

The rapid growth means they desperately need more physical space for storage and packing, but without capital behind them that’s a big ask.  In their typical thrifty fashion they’ve found an incredibly low-cost way of providing the infrastructure they need – but they still need to fund it.

Rather than follow the traditional business route of going into debt, they’re applying the same innovative spirit that’s seen their business grow and gain huge community support so rapidly into exploring new ways of funding business growth. And what better way to do it than combine it with a huge celebration – hence, the Gung Hoe Down!

It’s a big risk for them, as they have to commit to a whole bunch of expenses up front, but they have faith that by putting on a great party for the community they’ll be able to achieve their financial goal. They’re aware that not everyone likes to dance, and some people can’t afford a feast, so there’s a wide range of ticketing options. Check them out here.

And we have faith in them.  This event just perfectly sums up everything that Hugh and I love about welcoming these enthusiastic young farmers onto our farm – the determination to provide delicious and nutritious food to local people at a reasonable price, the innovative and clever approach to doing business, and the impulse to have a party at every opportunity!

See you on the dance floor or at the feasting table.

 

Giving birth is just the beginning

As our group of enthusiastic new farmers comes together and we breathe life into HOFA (the Harcourt Organic Farming Alliance ), I was reminded this week that giving birth to this brand new model of farming—the thing we’ve been planning for, working towards and anticipating keenly for many months now—is just the beginning.

Like having a baby, it’s all too easy when starting a new project to focus solely on having a successful birth, which is kind of analagous to the planning process we’ve been going through together to bring our idea to fruition.

What many people fail to anticipate is that it’s after the birth when shit gets real. Suddenly, you have a baby, and a whole new world of learning abruptly begins, one that has much higher stakes because other lives are involved, and are depending on you to get it right!

What reminded me was having a long chat with an old friend last weekend. We worked together in a big community project; she helped to get it off the ground, and I joined just a couple of years later. We were both involved for many years, and together witnessed the growth, tantrums, milestones, break-ups and—finally—evolution into the stable and grown-up organisation it is today.

I  observed at the time how similar an organisation is to a child; we had to carefully steer it through the early stages, tore our hair out during those difficult teenage years, and then watched with pride as it finally grew beyond needing us at all.

Unfortunately many new projects don’t survive to adulthood, but stumble and fail, often within 5 years of starting. The main reasons for lack of success are

  • poor communication
  • relationships failing
  • lack of financial viability
  • lack of capital
  • not being flexible and able to change and evolve
  • burnout
  • inexperience

In our planning process we’re doing our best to avoid all these pitfalls by establishing great systems, processes and group dynamics, but experience tells us that the real work is done by actually getting started, and then hanging in there for the next 18 or so years.

New farm resident Roberta will also be giving birth in coming months, and in turn paving the way for a brand new enterprise on the farm.

Cows don’t do a lot of planning for giving birth, or probably give much thought to what happens afterwards. They don’t have meetings, do visioning sessions, or write business plans, they just automatically know what to do, and get on with it.

Laying great foundations for the birth is a great start – but come 1 July, we’re going to have to start just getting on with it.

Heirloom veggie surprises…

The beauty of growing heirloom varieties of vegetables is that it’s always a surprise. This week we cut open watermelons to find the flesh yellow…we didn’t plant any yellow watermelons, ripe canteloupes that were white fleshed…we thought we only planted orange ones…and we also harvested our first lot of beans that included yellow, purple green, and yellow with purple stripes. So much variety, so beautiful!

This time of year is nuts on the farm (do I say that every blog?). We are picking so much beautiful produce we haven’t got enough hours in the day to also be sowing, preparing beds for and planting out our autumn/winter crops. But we’re just trying to roll with it and stay positive. We can after all only do what we can do!

February veggie boxes were a hit and we’ve loved hanging out at the Theater Royal courtyard on a Tuesday evening while people come to pick up their boxes and shoot the breeze. It’s such a joy watching kids and adults alike with melon juice all over their faces and flowers in their hands as they trot off down the lane.

It’s now time to order veggie boxes for the month of March if you’re interested. Things to expect (although there are always a few unexpected surprises) are corn, beans, spuds, beets, herbs, salad, chard, kale, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, melons, okra, onions, garlic, pumpkin, spring onions, capsicums and eggplant, phew! You can also add $10 of organic fruit to your box each week.

We ask for a month upfront payment and the boxes can be picked up Tuesday 4–6 pm at the Theatre Royal or Wed–Friday at the MAFG farm shop from 10 am to 4 pm. If you’re interested, check out the link to our online shop here:

https://gung-hoe-growers.myshopify.com/collections/produce

Another joy of working with heirloom, nonhybrid crops is the surprise of saving seed and replanting the next season. In amidst the planting and harvesting at the moment, we’re also saving seeds…next season will reveal what interesting cross-varieties we’ve accidentally created! Like this season’s freckles x salad bowl lettuce we’ve had coming up!

Grow well folks…

Sas (and Mel)