Future feeders offer community hope

YOUNG BLOOD: Katie Anderson, Liz Zubevich, Dane Winstanley, Georgia Gow, Anais Gschwind and Joel Orchard, (project manager), of Future Feeders, growing young farmers from the ground up.
YOUNG BLOOD: Katie Anderson, Liz Zubevich, Dane Winstanley, Georgia Gow, Anais Gschwind and Joel Orchard, (project manager), of Future Feeders, growing young farmers from the ground up. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

IF YOU are a young person with a goal to work on the land, farming can be a hard profession to break into unless you have a family farm or the capital needed to establish your own enterprise.

In steps Future Feeders - a new grassroots co-operative that started this year to help young people enter the industry.

Future Feeders offers mentorships, skills development, assistance with land acquisition and start-up support, all with an emphasis on sustainability and food security.

The ambitious project is the brainchild of Joel Orchard, a 30-year-old farmer and science graduate who moved to the Byron Shire five years ago to establish his own market garden farm.

When the Coorabell land he had been working on was no longer available, Mr Orchard realised how difficult it can be to establish a farm without back-up and set about forming his own support network of young farmers.

"In Australia we have a situation where farmers are mostly older and retiring, but the intake of younger farmers is reducing every year," Mr Orchard said.

"The opportunities for younger farmers to join the industry are few and far between."

The co-op has six members so far, aged between 23 and 35 years, and has been granted management of a disused banana farm at Montecollum and a 0.8ha plot at the Mullumbimby Community Garden to develop into commercially viable market gardens.

Younger farmers had advantages over older-generation farmers in their ability to adapt to a changing environment and the ability to think creatively, Mr Orchard said.

The Future Feeders have grabbed the attention of Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson, who has lodged a mayoral minute calling on his council to show support for the Future Feeders, therefore enabling the young farmers to have a chance at accessing funding for their plans. "Getting younger members of our community to engage in agriculture and dedicate themselves to the task of producing first-class local produce for the area into the future is not an easy task," Cr Richardson said.

"Fifty-three years is the median age of those working the land - a most worrying statistic. New ideas, new farming models and new thinking are vital in revitalising this most crucial of industries."

The long-term goal for the Future Feeders is to set up a network of farms on the Northern Rivers and grow the number of farmers involved, Mr Orchard said.

"We will be working with older farmers wanting to retire and landowners looking for help managing their land," he said. The group also wants to lessen the risk farmers face by growing food then trying to find a market to sell into, Mr Orchard said.

"We are looking to supply local restaurants and cafes on a commission basis," he said.

What it's about:

  1. The Future Feeders Program is an initiative providing young people with an opportunity for mentorship in small-scale farm management and agricultural skills development.
  2. It aims to provide a supportive bridge for young people into careers in sustainable food production, with an emphasis on local food security.
  3. The program strives to achieve the development of a vibrant community-owned co-operative of young local farmers.

Future Feeders aims to:

  • Assist young farmers with land acquisition and start-up support .
  • Service the local communities food needs.
  • Provide the financial strength of a diverse group of producers for the supply to consumers, purchase of raw materials and labour.
  • Develop an effective, efficient and engaging model of micro agribusiness that can be successfully mimicked within the co-operative.