Everyone wants in – RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Week 7

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Spending some much-needed quiet time in the tree nursery

In a week where my project has dominated my life, I’ve learned – to my great delight – that the vast majority of stallholders at the pilot farmers markets want to be involved in the project. How cool is that? Plus I’ve written the first draft of the Social Media Strategy for Stallholders. Yay!! Double Yay!! And, I think the project finally has a name:

Farmers Markets Building Communities

What do you think?

One way and another, it’s been a week of learning new skills. I always find the process of getting my “good ideas” (which are a dime a dozen, and often turn out to be not that good) into a form that makes sense to other people and stand up to scrutiny, really difficult.

One of the challenges of this particular project is that it needs to be quite detailed, and full of “nuts and bolts”, while at the same time inspiring people with my vision of what fantastic results we can get if we all work together! It’s a great challenge, and is pushing me to develop new skills around clear communication and good design, which I guess is one of the many benefits of the RIRDC Award.

I’m also developing some great skills in project management and development, which this week has been all about adaptability. Up until now the project has been going according to plan – I’ve written the survey for growers, sent it out to them, and was pretty happy to get more than 10 responses from each market. However, my goal is 20 stallholders participating at each market, so I needed to recruit some more.

I took the opportunity last Sunday to chat to stallholders at Castlemaine Farmers Market (we had a stall ourselves, but Hugh looked after it for a couple of hours to give me time to talk to people. Endlessly supportive as usual. Bless him.). I had heaps of fun, learned two big things, and as a result the project has now changed direction.

I spoke to about 12 stallholders who hadn’t yet done the survey and, to my great surprise, all were keen — even enthusiastic — and wanted to be part of the project. They just hadn’t had time to do the survey. So, the first thing I learned is that survey results only tell a very small part of the story!

I came away from the day feeling so positive that I’ve changed the project to assume that everyone wants to be part of it!  This means I’ll need a slightly different communication strategy. The second thing I learned is that stallholders are a diverse bunch, who want to get trained in a diverse range of ways – some want a workshop after the market, some want one on a different day, some want an e-book, some want a YouTube video – I can see myself acquiring several more new skills before this is over!

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In the last fortnight I’ve:

  • Sent out the survey to farmers, and received 22 replies, 19 ‘yes’ they want to be included, and 3 ‘no’ (one of whom I converted to a ‘yes’ at the market!)
  • Had chats with lots of stallholders at Castlemaine Farmers Market and verbally went through the survey with them – and got another 12 ‘yes’ !!
  • Finished the first draft of the strategy for stallholders and sent it to the team of wonderful people who are helping me, for review
  • Set up a meeting at Coburg Farmers Market with the market manager and the various parents who want to come on board and help with the project
  • Had a board meeting with Melbourne Farmers Markets and updated them on the project
  • Attended a Women in Leadership forum in Bendigo
  • Interviewed our new farm intern
  • Brought stage one of the successful new farm pruning program to an end. Apricots – finished!

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

Welcome Gung Hoe Growers!

Howdy!

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It is an honour and a privilege for us to work with Katie and Hugh on a project that brings our passion to life.  Their support, belief and encouragement of our dream has made taking the first big leaps into becoming farmers feel do-able. Farmers that are growing nutrient-dense food to feed our community and the soil it grows in.  Our vision is to create a small, manageable and viable organic market garden.  In our journey we hope to become a working example that may inspire other young farmers.

This region has a long history of food growing, including the Chinese market gardeners of the gold rush era.  A Gung Hoe is a traditional hand tool that those market gardeners would have used to provide food for their community.  We both love to work with this tool and for us it symbolises the small scale enterprise we want to nurture.  The Mandarin translation of Gung Ho is ‘working together’, the western interpretation is ‘eager and enthusiastic’…we hope to embody all of the above!

Thanks for all the support, keep in touch, ‘like’ our Facebook page to see what’s happening, and stay tuned every fortnight for our droughts and floods!

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Yours,

Sas & Mel

Gung Hoe Growers

Here’s a great story about a farmer…

RIRDC Victorian Rural Women’s Awards – Week 5

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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!

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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