Update on our current projects

This update is all about our current project, a WWF-Australia grant.

In 2022, WWF Australia funded us to implement a project for their “Innovate to Regenerate Challenge”.

Our goals with the project were to “test, document and share our model of co-operative farming that regenerates farmland, creates local employment, and provides a secure food source for local communities by 2024.” We’re grateful to WWF Australia for this funding, as it has enabled us to share our experience and refine our work, activities that would have been either impossible or unpaid and unfunded without their support. 

Since we’ve received this grant, we’ve been doing a lot of composting (metaphorically speaking). This means looking at all the different bits of the Co-op’s history and practice, layering them together, digesting the bits that need to be digested and hopefully, ending up with some rich humus to share and plant into at the end.

The different layers of the compost: How the project fits together

As part of the Innovate to Regenerate project, we’ve done work with Open Food Network (OFN) unpacking our co-operative farming model, what’s worked, what hasn’t and possibilities for the future. We’re excited to share some of the learnings in key reports from OFN, so that others who might be keen on collaborative farming can get an insight into the different ways our model has evolved. You can read more about that report below.

We’ve also undertaken a collaborative “Whole Farm Planning process”, trying to figure out how to think of and manage the farm as a whole, and identify niches for potential new enterprises to join. We’ve had the help of Anne Maree Docking at Thriving Rural, and input from Djaara and Holmgren Design to help us along. We now have a Whole Farm Plan that is a working document – we’ll introduce that one and the process of making it in a future blog.

With Jess Drake & Meg Roberts, we’ve undertaken a holistic analysis of small farm viability of HOFC enterprises. We’ve learnt a lot about how viability is defined really differently for each enterprise, and about the interplay of livelihood, values and business intentions. We look forward to sharing what we’ve learnt in a report on that soon too.

Finally, we’ve been working on documenting and sharing our model, through filming with the wonderful Mitch Nivalis at MDP Photography (you might have seen their amazing documentary about footy for women and gender diverse folks, ‘Equal the Contest’ – well worth a look if you haven’t).

We’ll be wrapping up the project with two webinars coming up soon, followed by an EOI process for anyone interested in joining the Co-op:

The first, on Thursday June 6th 7-8pm is to relaunch HOFC with a film screening and invite in the next generation of enterprises – this event is for anyone interested in what has made the coop work well to-date, what has been hard, what you might like to think about if doing something similar, and what structural changes are needed to support things like this in the world.

We are also holding a smaller EOI focused webinar on Tuesday June 11th 7-8pm for those seriously interested in joining the Co-op. You will have the chance to ask questions, shape your own enterprise proposal (either for joining the Co-op or just to help clarify your thinking), and help us think about what the next version of the coop might look like.

All of this is an important opportunity for us to tell our own story and share it with our community – to help aspiring farmers, landowners, food system folks and really, anyone who eats food, learn a bit more about our work. 

Read on if you’re interested in getting into a bit more of the nitty gritty of how our farming co-operative has evolved – both the good and the bad, and the lessons learned! 

Looking under the compost lid: Land-sharing models report from Open Food Network

In 2023, we engaged an Open Food Network team (Soph Christoe & Amida Cumming) to help us look at the different ways the HOFC model had or hadn’t worked since it began, and explore possible options and principles for designing future models for farming together. You can read the report here.

The report process included interviews with current and previous lessees of the Co-op, family members and other members of our community to get a broad perspective on the functioning of the Co-op model. 

The report found that there were many positives of working with a Co-operative farming approach. There were social benefits of farming together, the leveraging of our collective influence and the sharing of ecological benefits, resources, infrastructure and mentorship. It was clear that many people have invested a lot of good will over a long time to try and do something together. We know that going it alone isn’t enough to confront all the challenges in our food system, communities and landscapes!

We also had a lot of the challenges we’ve experienced reflected back to us – navigating power dynamics and investment in infrastructure, finding long-term lessees, divergences in collective goals and aspirations, failures of group processes or communication tools. All whilst juggling the realities of small-scale farming in a changing climate! If you’ve been involved in any collective effort or community group, you’ll know all too well about many of these things. 

We didn’t get exact answers on ‘what next’ for the Co-op, but it did help us see that we’re motivated to see out the remaining 3 years of our leasing experiment and continue exploring possibilities for future models of farming together – we’re not ready to throw in the towel just yet! We also got advice on some of the key elements of future models and key barriers present in our previous and current approaches, ensuring we learn lessons from the ups and downs of the past. 

We’ll be drawing on lessons from this report to help us with how we focus our upcoming relaunch and recruitment webinars, and future iterations of the Co-op!

We hope you enjoy perusing this report if that’s your thing, and stay tuned for some seasonal updates from enterprises at HOFC, and more detail on other parts of our Innovate to Regenerate project.

With thanks, the HOFC Crew.