Since around 2010, SOLN had been struggling to help local landholders with agricultural practices. Our circumstances here were specific - small, steep properties with limited access meant that many felt that they could not participate in conventional, commodities based agriculture. Additionally, our community members were generally not convinced that input based agriculture was either possible or environmentally desirable. We started looking at ways to help people generate a small amount of income from niche agricultural products and quickly realised that whole farm planning was a necessary first step. However, we quickly realised that conventional farm planning processes were developed in the context of broadacre production and were of limited relevance.
In 2013 we received a federal government Community Landcare Grant which we used to develop and run a property planning course. We developed a bespoke programme drawing speakers from diverse and alternative agricultural practices with a focus on permaculture, planned grazing and local food economies. We used the project to trial whether Landcare in the region could be reinvigorated by focusing community around a specific area of interest. Initially, the group was run informally as a discussion group. This was done deliberately to remove onerous governance requirements and committee meetings that we thought might squash enthusiasm.
The group very quickly became highly self-motivated, developing agricultural practice standards based on regenerative and agro-ecological principles and co-ordinating brand and market development. We found that when appropriately inspired and motivated by relevant content, the group had no problem "formalising" itself - establishing a committee, incorporating and becoming a 5th Landcare Group for SOLN. They are the only group based on interest and currently the most active group in the Network - meeting regularly, selling product at local markets, writing grants and seeking fundraising opportunities.
The primary lesson has been that people become inspired when you can find funding to match their interests and develop very locally specific solutions. A group based on interest has the most chance of success if you are working to address specific needs and interests - this requires "outside the box" thinking and trusting your community to articulate its needs and knowledge. It also means working hard to get funding to support your crazy ideas! Leadership and learning are more important to a thriving Landcare community - old geographically based models can be shaken up and new areas of interest allowed to emerge. People thrive on innovation.
The Landcare Share Centre is grassroots Landcare supporting grassroots Landcare
The Share Centre is a service provided by Landcare Victoria Incorporated (LVI)