Urban farming on a more commercial scale is evolving in Australia and although its early days, Millen Farm in Samford represents a great example of a peri-urban model that is packed with innovation in how it developed and operates.
At the recent 2017 national composting week opening run by CORE and held at Millen Farm, the event ambassador, Costa Georgiadis commented after seeing the scale of Millen Farm and how things were progressively fitting together with its community foot print, that it was a “nationally significant project”.
I must admit that when he used those words a tear or two came to my eyes. I remember sitting on the grassy hill where we were standing about 6 years ago with a dream about how this space could be turned into a new model for urban farming. I thought it would be helpful to share my journey on a project that is very close to my heart.
About 7 years ago our local Samford community rose up to stop Woolworths taking over retailing in our beautiful village. After that success, our local Councillor said to some of us in that large group, “now that you have combined to say what you do not want, how about using that energy to define a future for Samford and in particular how you want to engage with the Samford Parkland’s land”. This land was a former CSIRO agricultural research station and a large amount was sold for property development, but a portion remained for community use.
So a number of groups were formed under Samford Futures and I put my hand up to lead the “foodie” group. I had already been very active in the local food movement in my area and through urban agriculture consulting work I do, but perhaps it was that I did not step back when a “foodie” group leader was requested.
The group process took 3 years of very active engagement with the Samford Community and all groups progressively refined their story with a combination of people passion, skills and lots of persistence.
One of the key factors that drove the foodie group was that people wanted local organically grown food but it was difficult for them to find local food other than what may have been in their back yards. Our rural residential area used to be a farming community so there was lots of land and the Samford Parklands presented a great opportunity.
Our foodie group continued to build momentum and when we thought the time was right, a not for profit entity was formed called Millen Farm. I was the chairperson of that entity and I treasure the opportunity to have worked with such generous, talented and passionate people. Our “foodie” group had now become an entity, things were getting serious!
A core goal of Millen Farm was to develop a model of commercially sustainable urban farming in peri-urban environments and for this model to be established at Samford Parklands and then duplicated over time, working on leased public and private land. This was a very big vision.
After spending so much time with planning, negotiations and community consultation it was time to get the concept further grounded. Our local council controlled land took a lot of negotiation to be settled as it was new territory in how they worked with public land. Millen Farm had commenced running educational workshops on private land at least 18 months before the farming land was accessed and this was a great help in building momentum and cash flow. Grants for local and state government were accessed.
I stepped down as chairperson not long before the entity was ready to get its first farmer on board. I have to say that I was seriously burnt out at this time. Being self employed, my donated time over 4 years to the Millen Farm venture had caused a serious imbalance in my life. I was and still am totally passionate for the cause but I had come to the limit on how much time I could give.
I think initiatives need people with different skills at different times and it was a big relief to lift myself out of Millen Farm and let it develop its path. That path has not been an easy one for the Millen Farm group but you can see what has manifested by visiting the farm, talking with Arran, the wonderful first farmer on site and getting to hear how an incredible vocational pathway has opened up for budding urban farmers through Millen Farm. I think this is what excited Costa the most and its urban farming potential.
There is much I learnt from the Millen Farm process and it now provides a source of wisdom for our urban agriculture consulting services on large urban farming projects. So in a sense, the mountain of donated time to this urban farming initiative was an investment in my local community and my own business. That makes me feel good.
Author: Peter Kearney – www.myfoodgarden.com.au