Fire planning as a co-op – better done together!

Given a lot of our blogs last year were all about rain & mud, it’s a bit of a shift now to be talking about fire!

The more gentle season this year has given us all pause to try and get ahead on preparing the Co-op for fire events. This has meant that a little while back, we spent more than 10 hours total of whole-of-HOFC time working together on our fire plan (that’s a lot when you are bringing a crew of 10-15 busy people together!). Along the way, we’ve not only got ourselves a few steps ahead in being prepared for fire, but also exercised our collaboration muscles by working together on something important. And, we’re keen to share this with others, as whether you’re farming or not, building your preparedness for disasters is more and more important.

Fire planning – better done together!
Whilst we’d done our own work on fire planning over the years, things got spurred along thanks to our Innovate to Regenerate Grant from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). We linked up with local CFA resources, including the Mount Alexander Shire Community Fire Safety Officer, Rob Reid-Smith. Rob came out to the farm with colleague Sue, and assessed our fire preparedness & plan. They then provided two excellent free workshops on building & improving our fire plan. 

With plenty of theory and practice, we collectively came away feeling like we had plenty of work to do, but were much more empowered to do it. Rob helped us think through the practicalities of our fire plan, with loads of helpful tips on simple things we could do to reduce our vulnerability. And it got us talking about all sorts of scenarios, thinking through our different relationships to the farm and each other.

Whilst it sort of feels like the work is now just beginning, we have some strong priorities to keep working on before the next fire season comes around. We’re so impressed that the CFA runs these sessions as a free service to the community, so if you can organise a group of neighbours or interested folks, you too could have all the information you need to work on your fire plan together.

Whilst we learnt how to improve our fire plan, there were also some lessons to take into our collective work on food & farming. Particularly for me (Meg), around why it’s essential that we practice collaboration in good times.

Why do we need to practice collaboration in good times?
Firefighters do drills all throughout the year, often on clear calm days, with full bellies and rested heads. They do this because they know that when we’re clear and calm, we learn & practice best – which is why we’re working on our fire plan this season. But they also know that conditions will change, and that they will need to have that practice stored in their individual and collective minds when things are more drastic. 

In working on the fire planning exercise together, it became clear to me that this is a lesson all of us working on food & farming systems could take.

We know that collaboration & collective effort, built on strong relationships and networks across our food system, will make us more resilient in the face of increasing volatility. But we’re not going to be able to just switch that on when we need it most. Collaboration isn’t latent, it’s active. 

So, we need to know that those muscles will fire up (pardon the pun) when we’re faced with challenge, risk or even panic. This is not just true for fire, but for our food system in general. More shocks are going to come, and more fragilities will be exposed. We mustn’t let our relationships and the practice of working together atrophy in times when we might need each other less. 

We know from our experience as a co-op that people don’t just build trust automatically. Instead, we build trust through sharing risks & working together. Over time, the more we practice, the stronger those muscles, particularly the ones that can weather conflict & hard times. 

By building our collaboration fitness in good times, we increase our capacity to collaborate in times of stress. And, it just so happens that working on a fire plan together is a great way to build that fitness!

Picture credits: Brian Morris