Informal cooperative

Tilma Group facilititator Linda Tillman leads the second producer workshop in identifying local priorities.
Tilma Group facilititator Linda Tillman leads the second producer workshop in identifying local priorities.

Granite Borders Landcare continues to foster local producer cooperation, hosting another workshop at the Tenterfield Bowls Club to explore how small producers can work together.

Linda Tillman of the Tilma Group again facilitated discussion, saying the district is producing a whole lot of great produce.

“The more we hear, the more we discover,” she said.

She aimed to help participants determine their opportunities, challenges and priorities, and to what degree they wished to face those together.

From past discussions she ascertained not a lot of desire for a formal cooperative, but instead many local producers keen on collaboration.

Priorities for this more informal collaboration could include a farmer’s market, cooperative marketing including a website, organising chef ‘famils’ and tours by food writers, development of a brand, a local produce showcase (potentially in a retail space), an audit of existing products in order to create a database, an assessment of the need from a local meat processing facility, and a cooperative approach to freighting small quantities of produce to market.

The latter appeared to leverage the advantages of working together, addressing distribution, volume costs and logistical issues faced by small producers.

“It would be great to bridge the gap to people in the city who want to support us, but it’s got to be profitable,” one producer said.

Meeting the need for urbanites to connect with farmers and know the story behind their food continues to be a driver, but the need for a consistent product will be a challenge particularly given our seasonal growing conditions.

Ms Tillman said an important aspect of any cooperative – formal or informal – would be to educate consumers on the need to work with the seasons, and to recognise that the best produce becomes available at the peak of its season.

Arrayjay Downs’ Dave Fowler pointed out that earlier last century houses sat on large blocks with a vegetable garden and chooks and perhaps a few head of livestock out the back, to provide a degree of sustainability.

“Now it’s too convenient to go to the local supermarket and buy whatever you want, when you want it,” he said.

The additional legislative barriers to marketing meat and dairy products came under discussion, with local meat producers to meet to assess the possibility of establishing an accredited processing facility, also providing local employment.

This is just one component of what Ms Tillman summarised as a cluster approach for different interest groups, be they permaculture, a farmer’s market, protein production or other, with overlaps between them and a cooperative overlay when it comes to distribution and possibly marketing.

With plans for a regular farmer’s market well in hand, Ms Tillman said this could become a driving point for identifying more opportunities, as has happened as markets become popular in her hometown of Toowoomba.

She also considered an audit of local product to be a good first step, particularly in identifying market gaps.

Anyone wishing to be involved in future workshops should contact Granite Borders Landcare on (02) 6736 3500. There’s also a professional development program in the pipeline for those wishing to establish or improve their fresh produce production capabilities.