Last weekend, as the blue moon rose, 150 small farmers gathered in the Victorian central highlands to discuss small-scale food production and sustainability. Costa Georgiadis called it the “Woodstock of Australian agriculture” and he wasn’t wrong. The air of revolution was palpable.
In the picturesque Dean town hall, rugged up passionate men and women took advantage of the deep winter lull to participate in the first ever large-scale gathering of Australian sustainable farmers. And what a gathering it was, drawing together farmers far-flung across the continent involved in an array of farming practices including vegetables, pork, poultry, orchards, dairy and mushrooms. Not to mention writers, connectors and policy-makers.
As a young grower, it was incredible to meet like-minded souls. Young people committed to producing quality, sustainable and nutritious food were well-represented. It was such a joy to share stories with such bright, effervescent and inspiring people. Meeting trail-blazers in Australian small-scale farming was phenomenal. The chance to talk with people who had been successfully growing for years (or decades) was one I will treasure for years to come. The combined knowledge contained in that tiny town hall was unfathomable. Here were people who knew the ins and outs of biodynamic growing practices, cutting-edge poultry and pig raising techniques, and a myriad of other specific niches. It is a group like this one that should be consulted when it comes to drafting agriculture policy.
Over the course of the weekend’s discussions, it soon became clear that small farmers are too often left on the wayside by Australian policy-makers. In a country where small farming practices are not actively supported, regulations can hinder growers looking to support their local communities. Whether it’s the distinction between “extensive” and “intensive” farming practices, egg-stamping, the crackdown on raw milk, or the lack of land available to new farmers, it’s no wonder that a life on the land is becoming increasingly unattractive to some.
Jonai Farms, run by the formidable force-of-nature that is Tammi Jonas, served as the hub for the weekend event. Hours of discussion culminated in a feast celebrating the best of home-grown produce. Winter veg took pride of place alongside smoked trout, venison, lamb and pork. Fresh bread, hommus, sauerkraut, cheese and orchard seconds nestled amongst steaming fragrant dishes. Mulled wine and cider kept the conversation going well into the night as farmers gesticulated wildly around fire pits, forging solutions to keep small-farms as viable, attractive ventures.
One of the key solutions was diversification. In a modern world, farmers need to spread their eggs among several baskets. Increasingly, they need to be on-board with social media and sharing their skill-set with the broader public. Farms like Buena Vista encompass a range of primary produce (eggs, poultry, pork and vegetables) and value-added products (sauerkraut, bone broths, pate, yoghurt, cultured butter and labneh, to name but a few), in addition to running courses for the new homesteader. The era of the spud farmer is over. Small farms need to be ecosystems in their own right.
I made my way back to Milton with a happy heart and a mind thrumming with possibilities. With passionate people like this, I think Australia is in good hands.