Who grows the growers? – The Gloaming
By James Allen // 21:03, Thursday 9 August 2018
OPINION ~ I dug up a slab of concrete buried under a half-metre of red soil in my veggie garden last week. It’s one of the many artefacts I have accidentally uncovered that hint at the sprawling dairy operation that once occupied my modest block just north of Warragul some fifty years ago. I have wondered at times what that farming family might have made of my occasional flailing efforts to make the land productive again in the few hours per week between working a desk-bound day job and raising a young family.
First published in the 14 June 2018 edition of the Baw Baw Citizen.
The land is now a “lifestyle property,” which is a synonym for any small picturesque parcel of land that is cheap enough to be serviced by a middle class income, but too expensive and undersized to make unsubsidised primary production a serious business prospect. On my particular patch the volcanic soil runs deep, yet the only thing it nourishes today is capeweed and some lawnmower ruminants.
And therein lies a dilemma that is emerging throughout rural-urban fringes, like Baw Baw, where population and property prices are surging. There are those, like me, who have land but neither the skill nor time to make it truly productive. And then there are those, particularly young aspiring farmers, with the time and skill to farm but for whom the prospect of affording their own patch of soil plus farm startup capital seems to be fading.
The community of Eurobodella on the south coast of New South Wales are experimenting with a solution to this problem. With the average age of farmers in Australia exceeding 53 years, they recognised the need to support new farmers entering the sector. To do this, they are connecting tenant farmers with landowners under land share agreements, supporting young farmers to access affordable patches of dirt that may otherwise remain unproductive.
Baw Baw is a grower’s paradise. We need to “grow” our young growers to keep the sector strong into the future. The State Government’s recent inclusion of agriculture among its free TAFE courses will help, but our young growers also need a place to grow. Smallhold tenant farming is nothing new, but perhaps the time is right for a renaissance.
James Allen is a public servant, wannabe homesteader, and cohost of The Gloaming, Gippsland’s own podcast. Follow The Gloaming on Instagram or Facebook.
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