Here’s a great story about a farmer…

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Awards – Week 5

new apples 01
Planting the apricot orchard, 2004

Here’s a story about a farmer…

A young woman came home to the family farm in her thirties, because her dad was about to sell the farm, and she suddenly realised she wanted to be a farmer. After serving an apprenticeship with her dad, she and her husband then decided to convert the farm to organic production, and spent the next 5 years studying, changing the way they farmed and making lots of mistakes. The drought hit, and along with it came bird plagues, hail storms, disease outbreaks…but they kept absorbing the shocks, learning and adapting. Then the drought broke, with record-breaking floods, and it almost…almost…did them in. In the 10 years of the drought the number of farmers in their district had halved, as one after another succumbed to the combined pressures of drought and debt, and left the farm (none, mercifully, by taking their own lives). And they came very close to making the same decision…

But they didn’t. Instead they got some great advice and decided to stay, rebuild and expand. Most importantly, they learned the value of diversification to protect them in the future against the risks inherent in farming. While they decided they would keep farming, they also decided they needed another income stream that wasn’t dependent on the weather, and so, Grow Great Fruit was born.

That’s my story of course, with a hundred other little stories hidden in there as well…why we went organic, how we started an online business, what it’s like to work with your husband AND your father (that’s a story!!). Of course we’re not unique, every farming family in Australia would have their own stories to tell, and I think their time has come!

Dad and Hugh, planting the new peach block, 2010

As my Award project unfolds, I’ve been connecting with the two pilot markets for this project – Castlemaine Farmers Market, and Coburg Farmers Market. I’ve had a look at which stallholders already use social media and I’m shocked to say – not many! I already had a sense of that, but hadn’t done the figures until now.  Only 30% have a presence on social media, and only about 10% are actively using it.

I wonder why?

My theory (which I’ll shortly have evidence for – or against!) is that one of the main barriers to farmers market stallholders using social media to connect with their customers, is that they don’t think their story is worth telling. As we know, millions of people are using social media to tell their stories daily – why aren’t farmers?

Some are, of course, and are doing a fantastic job. I follow several of them, and always find their their farming stories and their trials, tribulations and successes fascinating. And we know from our own experience that it’s easy to engage people with our story – simply by telling it! Since we started using social media for our business a couple of years ago, we’ve built up the community around us to almost 4,000 ‘likers’ on Facebook, almost 2,000 people on our newsletter mailing list, and 200 followers on Twitter.

And (surprisingly, maybe) it actually feels like a community, despite existing in internet-world. Some of them we know, but many more have chosen to ‘like’ us because they like what they see when we post stories. As they comment, ‘like’ our posts, or share them with their own networks we gradually get to know some of them, and this often leads to real-world encounters at the farm for an open day, at the market to buy fruit, or at one of our workshops, or they go on to join our Grow Great Fruit membership program.

It’s not that long ago that most families would have had some connection with a farm – an uncle, or grandfather, or a family friend. But in the last 50 or so years a lot of those connections have been lost, and now the majority of people that live in cities and large towns don’t have a farm they can easily visit, which means they’ve lost that vital connection to where their food comes from. Food production is just so intrinsic to our human nature that I think people are longing to reconnect with the land, and social media provide us with the perfect medium to re-establish those connections.

Persuaded? Great, but that was probably easy, because if you’re reading my blog, you’re already a social media user. My real challenge is to connect with farmers and other stallholders at the farmers markets to (a) persuade them it’s a good idea, (b) help them understand the benefits for themselves and their markets, and (c) teach them how to do it.  I think it’s possibly going to be a big challenge, but I can’t wait!

Many thanks to RIRDC for supporting rural women through the Rural Women’s Award.

This week I’ve been:

* finalising the survey of stallholders which will survey their existing social media use, and (hopefully) recruit them for the project
* meeting with Coburg Primary School, the community partner organisation for Coburg Farmers Market, who have a very special role to play in the project* working on goal setting and timelines
* scheduling 6 winter workshops for our farm business
* having a brief and beautiful holiday with my gorgeous husband
* interviewed by Apple and Pear Australia for Australian Fruitgrower magazine
* training two new pruners for our pruning crew (hooray!)
* accepting an invitation to the Regional Leaders Forum in Bendigo
* working on my application to be a speaker at the Connecting Rural Business Women conference

RIRDC Vic Rural Women’s Awards – Who Inspires You, Baby?



I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve found myself saying “RIRDC – that’s Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, look them up online, they offer this amazing Award for rural women, you should enter,” or words to that effect!

I’m finding in my travels, and as I talk to lots of women about the Award, that many of them haven’t heard of it yet. Well! There’s a mission for me, to spread the word. It’s such a great opportunity to get more skills and take a step up towards leadership, as well as the very welcome financial support of the bursary to get your project done.

Of course there’s also other leadership opportunities, other courses, even other awards, for both women and men in agriculture and rural communities, and they’re all great. But first, you have to see yourself as the potential in yourself.

Lots of women seem to feel like it doesn’t apply to them – they don’t see themselves as leaders, or successful enough, or …. something … to even enter an award or start a leadership course, and I’m meeting them all the time. This week I met Sam, who regularly travels from her new home on the other side of Melbourne all the way back to Ballarat to work on the volunteer committee that organises the Ballarat Rural Living Expo (as well as other major events during the year). How’s that for dedication? I reckon she deserves an award!

Which brings me back to the question of who inspires you? One of the influential women for me, who helped set me on the path to winning this award, was Cathy McGowan, now independent MP for Indi, when she taught a Women in Organics course I was lucky enough to do a few years ago. And there are lots of other women who have been key in helping me believe in myself and give it a go. I’ve been thinking a lot about who inspires me, and some of them are well known, but many of them you will never have heard of, because they’re just quietly going about being leaders in their own field, or town, or family. All important, all inspirational. I started a list, but it got very long, very quickly, so I’m just going to tell you about three of them.

Clare – one of our Grow Great Fruit members who joined after their property was burned out by bushfire a few years ago. They saved their house but lost some of their precious stock and all but a few remnants of the garden, and had to start again from scratch. Since the trauma of the fire, they’ve dealt with illness and the rehabilitation of their property with endless good humour and persistence, and have been amongst our most active members, soaking up every scrap of information we can provide them about how to grow their own fruit and then asking for more. Jane and her husband are the sort of resilient folk that epitomise rural Australians.

Vandana Shiva – an Indian activist who actively campaigns against GMO technology and for a return to a more women-centred traditional farming model in India as a way of increasing prosperity for rural women and their families, while protecting the environment and food sovereignty. She’s awesome.

Cathy – from Bliss Blend organic teas, who has the stall next to us at Bendigo Community Farmers Market. Cathy started her organic tea business from scratch, and has come up with her own recipes, sourced all the organic ingredients (almost all Australian), come up with thoughtful and beautiful packaging, learned how to do her own marketing, and built a thriving small business from nothing. She’s just committed to the big step of attending an expensive interstate trade show, and I’ve got my fingers crossed she lands her first big contract, which will be just what she needs to expand her business to the next step. I can just see her as Australia’s organic tea queen (and can highly recommend her licorice tea – addictive!).

So, you’re surrounded by amazing women – and if you’re a rural woman, are no doubt one yourself! Who are you feeling inspired by?

Meanwhile back at Project Central, this week I’ve been

* interviewed by Southern Farmer newspaper;
* met with the lovely folk at the Victorian Farmers Markets Association to tell them about my project (that’s where I took the photo, just to show I occasionally get close to Giorgio Armani, even if I would never in a million years shop there!);
* writing the survey I’m going to send to all the stallholders at the pilot markets – Coburg and Castlemaine Farmers Market – and sending it to various mentors for feedback;
* organising a pruning crew – hooray!! – this is going to give me the time I need to work on the project;
* hosting a “Cooking for Numbers” group from Castlemaine Community House at the farm, telling them how small family farms like us market and sell our produce;
* doing fruit tree talkback on Local ABC radio;
* giving a fruit tree workshop to a packed marquee at the Ballarat Rural Living Expo;
* interviewing our new farm intern with Hugh;
* Hugh and I have been finalising negotiations to lease some land on the farm to some enterprising young women farmers who want to start a market garden; and
* having our annual NASAA farm inspection.

Wow. That was a big week, but honestly, aren’t they all? And after all, you’re a long time dead….

Vic Rural Woman of the Year – Week 3

Well, this has been a fun week!katie-at-desk-295x393

I’ve had the most fantastic goal-setting session this week, with one of the wonderful women who has offered to be a mentor for the project. Wow – talk about inspirational!

Clare got me to step back from the detailed project planning for a minute, and focus on the big picture – why am I doing the project, why did I apply for the award, and, most importantly, where do I want to be by the end of the project? And she insisted I be very specific!

What a great process…I must admit my thinking had become a little fuzzy (more on that later), but having to articulate the outcomes I’m trying to achieve helped me focus. It sounds pretty obvious, but if you start with the end in sight it’s easier to plan, to make decisions about whether to say yes or no to opportunities that come up, and to create opportunities that will help you get there. Goal setting 101!

My planning session also left me feeling very inspired about the possibilities of what I can achieve this year. I’m thinking like a bee (do bees think?) and imagining tapping into the ‘hive’ potential of the network of farmers that are around each farmers market. Getting farmers to tell their stories and connect with their community using social media is just the beginning. The magic happens (I hope!) by introducing the multiplier effect of working collaboratively – farmers and farmers markets together to connect with an exponentially growing audience!

And after my session with Clare, I now have a much clearer idea of exactly what I’m trying to achieve – how many markets I want to work with (2), how many farmers I want involved (at least 20 at each market), and how to know if the strategy is working (by measuring attendance at the markets). Awesome.

But you know what really excites me about the Award? (I know, I’m excitable, right?) The idea that a woman somewhere will hear me speak at some event about how social media and farmers markets gave us back control over our business, and go home that night and say to her partner… “I heard this woman talking today, and I think we could do what’s she’s doing.”  Now that would be satisfying.

So, back to the fuzzy thinking I’d been experiencing earlier in the week…apparently there’s a thing called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – have you heard of it? I hadn’t, until Clare told me about it. It’s not uncommon (apparently) for people (particularly women) to feel like an imposter when they’re promoted or thrust into the limelight, or … they win an Award. Aha!  Here’s a link if you want to know more about it. If you’ve had feelings of being a fraud, or undeserving of your success, it’s worth a read. Thankfully I’ve recovered quickly, thanks to a neat little reframe Clare did for me.  It’s simple really – the congratulations and accolades that have come flooding in are a beautiful expression of goodwill from my community, pleased for me that I won something! Separate to that is the fact that I’m lucky enough to be able to use this Award over the next 12 months to achieve my goals. I don’t plan to waste another minute feeling that I don’t deserve to be here, I’m taking this ball and running with it. There’s only 49 weeks left, and I’ve got a lot to get done!

This week I’ve

  • been goal setting, both for the Rural Women’s Award project and all the other projects I’m working on
  • met with Linnet the lovely communications manager from Castlemaine Farmers Market to discuss CFM being my country pilot market
  • met with the lovely folk at Melbourne Farmers Markets to choose a pilot market in Melbourne
  • agreed to an interview request by the Australian Fruitgrower magazine
  • agreed to a speaking request by Castlemaine’s U3A group
  • followed up an offer to attend an Internet Business conference

Thanks to RIRDC for supporting rural women (and me!) through the Rural Women’s Award