Above Laura Meade on stage at the 2017 Otway Food and Fibre Showcase with a local butcher and chef.
In mid 2015 the Central Otway Landcare Network (COLN) wanted to find the best way to engage small to medium landholders across the Otways in more sustainable land management.
A landscape use and demographics study commissioned by the Corangamite CMA had revealed high land prices in the region due to good rainfall, soil fertility, recreation and tourism, including agri-tourism opportunities. The study highlighted the many small to medium farms in our Landcare area and predicted significant land ownership change in coming years.
Farmgate producers across the Otways are represented by several effective organisations like the Otway Harvest and the 12 Apostles Food Artisans. These organisations assist with marketing fruit and nut orchards, pork, beef, lamb and wool graziers, vegetables, viticulture, egg producers and value-added products like jams, preserves and olive oil.
The traditional Landcare model involves working with landholders to achieve more sustainable land management through weed and pest control, revegetation, improving soil health, enhancing biodiversity, whole farm planning and building climate resilience. But the priority for many of the small to medium farmers in the Otways is building relationships with their community and their customers. COLN decided to enter this space.
We got underway in 2015 by building on an existing event, Eat Local Month. We ran a large finale for this program, bringing all of the Otway food and fibre producers together in one place. The event celebrated their contribution to an ecologically sustainable, just, accessible, community-based food and fibre system.
In 2016 the Otway Food and Fibre Showcase was born. The showcase is an opportunity to show people where their food comes from, how it’s produced, and enable people to make the connection between food, community, environment and personal health.
The event is now biennial. Stallholder numbers have grown from 25 to 60, and visitor participation from several hundred to several thousand.
We run three stages for guest speakers, workshops and demonstrations over the day. The stages are coordinated by local producers who determine the topics of interest. These have included fibre production, soil biology, regenerative farming, agroforestry, local food systems, accreditation systems, butchery, shearing demonstrations and features on local restaurants and cafés.
The farm design for Barongarook Pork was based on replicable and scaleable permaculture principles. The water is filtered through protected vegetated swales and a wetland filter to process water in the dam for recycling back to the header tank, then back to troughs and new wallows.
The section of Boundary Creek that flows through their property is now fenced and planted with native riparian species. The next stage of the transformation is to harness nutrient build up in the rotationally grazed paddocks by growing diverse cover crops for forage and green manure.
The family has also invested in another property where the same principles are applicable and has begun installing shelter belts in exposed areas of the landscape. This farm was featured on a field trip for the 2019 From the Ground Up – Growing Regenerative Agriculture in Corangamite Conference.
Barongarook Pork sell their products by order to restaurants and occasionally at farmers’ markets. The farm improvements are a great marketing story for the business.
Coordinating the Otway Food and Fibre Showcase has produced multiple positive outcomes for COLN. Many local farms have hosted their first farmgate sales and market stalls at the showcase. Interest in value-adding has strengthened with farmers meeting and working directly with local chefs and cooks and introducing new enterprises like free-range egg chooks to their business. There has been an increase in landholders taking up family farm succession planning, cover cropping and soil biology programs. We also garnered huge support for our 2019 Growing Regenerative Agriculture conference.
COLN has found a new way to engage with its small and medium sized producers – testament to the creativity, strength and flexibility of the Landcare model.
Andrew Gray is Landcare Facilitator for Barongarook Landcare Group and Central Otway Landcare Network. Andrew’s position is funded through the Victorian Landcare Facilitator Program. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org