Dairy communities celebrated at the Shrine
The Gardiner Dairy Foundation Grants presentation was held on the 6th of July at the stunning Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. Many of the recipients travelled hours from their small dairy communities to attend the event and as these recipients mingled with Gardiner Dairy Foundation staff, board members and FRRR staff, an atmosphere of warmth and enthusiasm for rural and regional Australian dairy communities emanated. Above all, the farming regions’ locals –those who work so hard to create change in their towns - were there to be celebrated.
The day’s speakers included Dean Lee, CEO of the Shrine of Remembrance; Mary Harney, Chief Executive of the Gardiner Dairy Foundation; Dr Judith Slocombe, Gardiner Dairy Foundation Director and Chair of Community and People Development; and the RT Hon Ian Sinclair, AC, Chairman of the FRRR. Ian’s words included an astute connection between the dairy communities and the venue for the day. He noted the tie-in between farming communities and service to country, saying that though we may not feel that it is much of our business today – many of the projects supported through this program have links to that time.
After the 24 grant certificates had been awarded, three grant recipients were interviewed on stage by Mary Harney and FRRR’s CEO Natalie Egleton. These interviews give extra insight into the impact of the grants.
Here is what we learned:
Paving the way for community access
Debra Smith from the Simpson Community Resource Centre spoke about the grant they received for stage two of the Simpson Community Garden project, which saw a local company level the area and put down crushed rock for lovely wide paths.
Deborah said that it is important that the garden is accessible for both kids and older folk, as theirs is a community with lots of retired farmers, sea-changers and tree-changers - and not many people between 18 and 36.
The project has had some great results:
“Access to fresh fruit and veggies has improved, especially for those who really need it. Certain members of the men’s shed have discovered they have a love of gardening… and it has expanded the activities of the shed … people are seeing more of what the centre does, it’s had lots of benefits.”
A small grant and a little negotiation lights up centre for kids
Sally Day, President of the Moyhu District Preschool, talked about the programs impact on their centre. This was their second grant, and they have transformed the space in the kinder as a result.
The Moyhu District Preschool is in quite a rural area and has students from a 30km radius attend the Preschool.
“If our kinder wasn’t there, our furthest families would have to travel about 70 kms to get their children to a preschool facility. So we think we’ve got a really important role in the community.”
The first grant saw them install a shade sail over an outdoor play area and sandpit and the second grant replaced the acoustic tile ceiling from the 1970s, added three ceiling fans and installed efficient LED lighting.
“We had a very old, aging shade sail that didn’t offer a lot of protection and we have really expanded the area that was covered through that. That’s transformed our playground.”
“The funding we received through the Gardiner Dairy Foundation and FRRR was used to replace the acoustic tile ceiling and put in some efficient led lighting and ceiling fans which has made a really big difference to air movement in the room. We’d like to work on our bathroom space next, which is an original 1978 vintage.”
Sally said the group really leveraged the grant - negotiating with the local council to get them to chip in. They agreed to provide $3,000 in addition to the $4,000 Working in Dairy Communities grant and the kinder’s own fundraising efforts.
“Receiving the grant was great leverage for us because we would never have been able to fund this internally.”
The funds have helped keep the centre up to date, started to improve sustainability and reduce energy costs. The response from the community has been really positive and enrolment numbers have increased, with some people even travelling to the kinder from Wangaratta because of its reputation.
“Thank you to the Gardiner Dairy Foundation and FRRR. We really appreciate the grants and it does make a difference to our little communities.”
'Two families with a biscuit tin' turns into a veritable 'Veggie Church'
Gill Freeman from Grow Lightly Connect spoke about just how far the community enterprise has come, and what’s next.
Grow Lightly Connect operates ‘The Food Hub’ outside of Cole Creek. Its shop is open four days a week and it provides around 40 local families with local produce boxes on a weekly basis – but best of all, it’s a wonderful growth story.
“We started with two families who moved from Melbourne into the country. They love gardening, but grew so much that they didn’t know what to do with it. They started taking it back to their families in Melbourne in boxes. And the locals were a bit peeved about this. They wanted to get in on the act and suggested we prepare some boxes for local families. So that’s where we started.”
Gill explained that they packed for a start in a farm shed, then a local café, then an old cool room and now they are located in a building owned by the local council, just outside Cole Creek.
The grant they received from the Gardiner Dairy Foundation was used to build the process through equipment and renovations to facilitate the storeroom and distribution hub that they now operate out of. The locals, however, play a big part. Community support has allowed the Grow Lightly Connect project to thrive from its humble beginnings to where it is today. Every Sunday morning at 8am volunteers head up to ‘Veggie Church’ to pack boxes.
From “two families with a biscuit tin”, they now have about 70 growers and a turnover of $200,000 – three quarters of which goes directly to the growers. Their growers are a mix of local farmers with a small plot of land, ex-farmers with small market gardens or local people with big veggie gardens. They bring in what they have, and Grow Lightly Connect takes everything. In the shop, nothing is wasted - food that isn’t sold is turned into chutneys, sauces and preserves.
The organisation pays farmers what they ask for, when it comes to price, and Gill says “How often do you get a food industry that accepts a grower’s price?” He is passionate about nurturing local agriculture and local food system change.
“South Gippsland is renowned for its dairy, beef, its potatoes and its peas… but they travel all over the world. To change that dynamic, it’s about building up a local economy. We don’t see it as competing; we see it as an alternative, a parallel, small farms economy.”
Grow Lightly Connect recently organised a “Making local food work’ event in Southern Gippsland, which drew a crowd of about 170 local growers and community food enterprises. Various groups got up and talked about the future of their small farms, the economy and how enterprises can cooperate.
Gill said “We are looking at a new dynamic, a new ethos, which grows activities. It grows employment, grows cooperation. The idea of the next phase is to work out how this can be formalised into something more efficient so that when we have people growing, it can be easily distributed locally, because transport logistics are almost impossible over short distances.
I think there is something brewing here in the country which we need to promote.“