Highlights from the tour: the Chris Walsh/Food Hub road show…

Chris headed off here, there and everywhere during his month in Australia and below are some more of his musings from time spent trekking to a range of communities across Victoria to talk about the work of the Kindling Trust and workshop ideas and innovations that are springing up around the traps.

chris speaking pic

First stop: Goulburn Valley!

I was particularly excited to visit Les and others from the Goulburn Valley Food Coop because I had heard about the inspiring work they had been doing in and around Girgarre in response to Heinz closing a local food processing factory.

The area is very dependant on farming and many in the town have traditionally been employed in processing and tinning factories. When Heinz announced it was closing its factory in 2012 the coop was established. Beyond the 146 immediate jobs lost, it was estimated that another 700 jobs were effected including local businesses, haulers and obviously farmers.

Les Cameron – who I was fortunate to stay with – helped establish the co-op with 750 members. It is run by a committee of 30 members – two thirds of whom are previous factory workers.

So, with huge support, the group offered to buy the factory from Heinz for $750,000. This was rejected – despite it being reportedly the best offer they received.

After this the group attempted to establish a factory of their own, but this was scuppered after a significant financial backer (having independent financial problems) pulled out and so the virtual factory concept was born.

In 2013 with the help of local businesses their famous tomato pasta sauce was manufactured. With an initial run of 5,000 jars, the sauce has been made with local tomatoes and has been sold as a package – a £5 ‘meal deal’ of sauce and organic pasta.

gv coop toms pic

With this success the co-op has been looking for its next venture and this came with a Pear Cider. After its first batch sold out, its second run has just been launched and I was lucky enough to taste both!

For more info click here.

 

Trentham … also grappling with the pressures and opportunities of being so close to such a booming city and a farming industry in decline.  Being further out than places like Casey it is not under pressure from urban sprawl directly, but with Aussies happy to drive several hundred Kilometres for a night out, many Melbournians are moving out to these picturesque communities.
 
Like so many, Trentham has two faces to its food-scape, on the surface, to a tourist, food is a strong economic driver with cafes, artisan bakeries, farmers markets and a growing population of semi-retiries and young professionals moving onto the land to farm.
 
Talk to a local farmer and you soon discover that the situation is far from idea – many describe it as desperate. Traditional farmers are going out of business, or getting deeper and deeper into debt and their children are heading to the city. Pressure from supermarkets and their ilk continue to force prices down and farmers are relying more and more on the inflated land and property prices to pay off debts or provide a pension in later life.
 
Each area I’ve visited played a unique role feeding the local population and the city of Melbourne. Geology plays a huge role in determining the type of farming, some areas are blessed with rich volcanic soil and rainfall, with access to water a crucial factor.  Trentham is one such area, 700 metres above sea level, its colder and wetter than many areas. With its large trees and rolling hills it looks like England in the Summer and so was an idea area to grow potatoes and raise beef. 
 
Just a hundred or so kilometres away places like Dookie looks more like the great plans of America with ‘broadacre’ farms of huge expanses of cereal crops. The area around Casey was ideal for fruit & veg production and Stanhope specialised in tomato production and fruit.
 
But each tells a story of a globalised food industry that is deserting them, having bleed them dry -literally in some cases. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of acres of ripped up orchards, with trees in piles ready for burning and I’ve met many many farmers asking what next?
trentham pic