A quick run down on the Small Farms, Big Ideas workshop in Copping, June

I promised a quick run down a couple of months ago (!) of the Tasman workshop held on June 18th this year. Where has that time gone?!?!?

Boneyard view

The Small Farms, Big ideas workshops were a series of day long meetings, pitched primarily at women involved with small holdings. It was part of a great initiative by Annette Reed of Tasmanian Natural Garlic and Tomatoes, Tasmania's Rural Woman of the Year. This workshop was supported by NRM South. I also discovered the Tasmanian Women in Agriculture not-for-profit organisation. Membership is free - follow the link to become a member online.

Annette had an opportunity to tell her story, and invited some other local women to provide some of their insights and knowledge. I personally found it quite an inspiring day. Invited guests included author and land holder Rachael Treasure, Local Produce Melanie Leesong of the Coal River Farm, Hilary Hartley of Grown for Taste, and me.

A brief synopsis of the themes that were (briefly) explored by the guests and the audience:

  • Whatever you do, you MUST have passion for you product. This translates immediately to your customers, and I'm certain it makes your produce taste better! I know from experience that I explain our product again, and again, it I still get excited about it every time. If you don't think you will, don't do it. I guess it;s also about pride in your product.
  • Utilise social media (and webpages) for marketing. This is free, and can be done efficiently.
  • If you can't do it, find someone who can: recognising your limitations and outsourcing parts of your business (or even your social marketing) is incredibly important for your business, the product and your own sanity.
  • Try and vertically-integrate and value-add to your product. Vertical integration is about control of the basic unit of produce (eg the goat milk) to which you value-add (on farm) (eg cheese). You have control over all stages of the development, and you also have control over supply.
  • Long-term sustainability needs to include emotional, psychological, financial and also physical aspects. Design for body sustainability - after all, it's hard to pull weeds or plant garlic with a bad back. And you only ever get older...
  • Soil management and weed management have huge impacts on your product. Look after your land, and your land will look after your product.
  • Future-proof for adversity.
  • Too many ideas is as big a problem as too few - make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew, refer back to the sustainability point!
  • Agritourism is a new(ish) industry - harness the interest people have in where their food comes from.
  • Know the regulations and legislation surrounding your product - design and plan to those regulations.
  • There is a huge conflict which I have realised over the last 3 years that affects all producers: there is a conflict between sales and production, and the juxtaposition can be hard to to manage. It is so easy to get caught up in improving your product (or fixing the fences to keep your product in) that you forget to sell. Without money, there are no tools or materials to fix that fence - so you have to spend time on selling your product also. It can be difficult.
  • Think about how you can pool resources with other produces local to you - I see that co-ordinating transport, forming co-operatives and working together is going to be key to long term success for smaller producers.
Cows in perennial pasture

I discovered a couple of interesting resources through this workshop - Stipa is an organisation that promotes and demonstrates the profitable management of native grasslands for resilient ecological health. Perennial pastures are an important and sustainable way to manage land and produce good quality animals. Mark Shepard is an American Farmer interested in Regeneration Agriculture - click here for more information. Definitely another thing I need to look into!

Thanks to Annette Reed for her passion and for developing the workshops, and the other (inspirational) guests. A huge thanks to the audience for their interest, enthusiasm and kindness.