The incredible power of knowing your purpose – RIRDC Rural Women’s Award Week 11

Do you know your life’s purpose?  It’s a big question for a workday morning, but interesting to ponder. I realised the other day that nearly everything I do in my work life is based around the same passion and interests, so I’m wondering..is this my life’s purpose?

The big realisation struck me this Monday when I helped to launch the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network (MALPN). It’s a new network for sustainable farmers in Mount Alexander Shire that grew out of the “Growing Local Food Economy Forum” that Council held waaaay back in 2012 (it takes a long time for these babies to gestate sometimes!).  The aim is to help connect farmers and others (e.g., retailers, restaurants, farmers markets, eaters – in fact anyone in the local food sector), to promote our rural sector, and to give local farmers a voice. It was a fantastic launch, and well attended, as you can see.

MALPN launch
Local farmers, future farmers, food retailers and eaters at the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network launch

I was asked to give the launch speech in my role as RIRDC Victorian Rural Woman of the Year, and in it I touched on my Award Project, which is all about empowering small family farms to have more control over their marketing.

Which got me to thinking about the other projects in my life. Funnily enough, I find the three other projects I’m really passionate about at the moment are all very closely related! The first is creating new pathways to farming on our farm (e.g. our new collaboration with the Gung Hoe Growers, and getting involved in the Organic Federation of Australia’s new farm intern program), the second is being involved with The Growing Abundance Project and supporting the establishment of a practical organic food growing course, and the third is my work on the board of Melbourne Farmers Markets, where the focus is all about improving the local food system by creating secure and profitable markets for small and medium-sized farmers! I’m detecting a definite theme…

What really brought it all together in my head was realising that all the small and local projects I’m involved in, and in fact our little farm, are part of a much bigger global movement.  In reality, we have a pretty small farm with only 6,000 fruit trees, and it’s easy to feel like we’re not a significant player in agriculture, but I’ve recently come across a 2013 United Nations report called “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late“, which drew on scientific papers about environment, climate change and food systems from all around the world to conclude that

“The world needs…a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based…industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

Then I discovered a heavily researched 2014 report from an organisation called GRAIN titled “Hungry for Land“, which reached the following conclusions:

1.  The vast majority of farms in the world today are small and getting smaller.
2.  Small farms are currently squeezed onto less than one-quarter of the world’s farmland.
3.  We are fast losing farms and farmers in many places, while big farms are getting bigger.
4.  Small farms continue to be the major food producers in the world.
5.  Small farms are overall more productive than big farms.
6.  Most small farmers are women.

 Isn’t that mind boggling? Though small farms take up less than one-quarter of the farming land in the world, we produce most of the food! We small farmers, particularly women, ARE important! Small and medium-sized sustainable family farms play a significant role in helping to feed the world, and I’m pretty sure my life’s mission is to help empower them!

It’s pretty special to find myself doing (mostly) what I love, in work that feels useful and purposeful. I haven’t quite got here in the “textbook” way of first setting the goal, and then working towards it. I’ve followed the more haphazard path of just getting involved in things that are really interesting, working with other inspiring passionate people, and being open to opportunities as they come up.  I guess that’s the incredible power of knowing your life’s purpose!

This week I’ve

  • Been guest speaker at the Mount Alexander Local Produce Network Launch
  • Appeared in an article (and on the front cover!) of Australian Fruitgrower, the Australian Apple and Pear (APAL) magazine
  • Appeared in APAL’s YouTube video: “Using Social Media to sell Organic Apples”
  • Signed the contract with RIRDC to carry out my project – it’s official!
  • Been introduced online to all the other RIRDC Rural Women’s Award state winners – and looking forward to talking to everyone at our first teleconference next week.
  • Organised details for the trip to Canberra to attend the Company Director’s Course in August – can’t wait!

Thanks to RIRDC for their valuable support of the Rural Women’s Awards.

Curious visitors…

I only know of one person who doesn’t like garlic…and I truly don’t understand why!! Garlic has been the first thing we’ve planted in our market garden as it’s hardy, the moon was right and it doesn’t need intensive irrigation like lots of other veggies! It also got us going!!

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The garlic we planted we had both saved from our previous plots last year.  The best, the fattest, the juiciest heads and now there are four different varieties getting their roots strong and their green tips shooting up towards the light.

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Since planting the cloves we have had several visitors check out the new installation at Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens: several four-footed creatures and a few hoppity guests.  We didn’t want to block out the gorgeous view, but we wanted to keep the new green young ‘uns somewhat protected…so we decided to build a fence. Upon doing so the green shoots are undisrupted (stay away cockatoos!) and we have hopes of growing many a thing round, up and across the wire.  Some veg of course, and some flowers, which we hope to sell to a local flower artist, Organica Botanica.

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We are still being blown away with the support and belief our community is showing us…even though the garlic is 6 months away, the lettuces, kale, broccoli, carrots, radishes and many more will soon be in the ground and then (fingers crossed) on people’s plates. We can’t wait! Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Mel and Sas

Unsung farming heroes – Week 9 RIRDC Rural Women’s Award

Just recently, I’ve been lucky enough to meet one of my local heroes.

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This is Margaret, one of the early apple tree growers in our district. She and her husband had a very famous nursery that specialised in heritage apples, and they grew more than 500 varieties. Imagine that! Margaret has more knowledge about apple trees in her little finger than I will probably ever have. She also made a huge contribution to the preservation of heritage apple varieties in Australia. Sadly it got too much for them, many years ago now, and the collection was lost.

We’re now planning our own heritage apple orchard as part of our organic production on the farm and, luckily, she was happy to meet with me over a cuppa, share her experience and – best of all – give me permission to use some of their vast knowledge in the fruit tree database we’re slowly accumulating on our website.  She also reluctantly agreed to have her photo taken and used in our social media, as she didn’t feel her story was at all worth telling!

One of the things I’ve realised doing the Farmers Markets Building Communities project is that my district, this state, and probably the whole of Australia (if not the world) is full of people just like Margaret. They’re the small producers, quietly going about producing food and food plants, preserving old ways while incorporating new methods and new technologies, sometimes running very modest businesses but bringing a tremendous amount of passion, knowledge and skill to their work and to their customers at the farmers markets, every single day.

Family farmers are this country’s unsung heroes, and I want to tell their stories. That’s why I’m doing this project.