I was supposed to present at this event in Melbourne yesterday but the plane gods had other ideas – if your scheduled morning flight is delayed and then cancelled you are not getting off the island until at least the afternoon which is not really helpful when you are due to talk at 3!
So here is my presentation. I did do a lovely timed powerpoint preso to go with but a random image here or there will have to suffice!
The North West coast of Tasmania is facing, and has for the past several years, numerous economic, educational and health crises.
The area has the highest unemployment rates in the state of Tasmania (which has some of the highest in the country), the lowest levels of educational attainment and retention, and the highest rates of intergenerational welfare dependency in Tasmania. Further, levels of adult literacy and numeracy are amongst the lowest in the state and have shown little improvement over the last five years. Unfortunately, the area as a whole is one of the nation’s most disadvantaged, and is listed as one of the top 10 most disadvantaged local government areas according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics SEIFA indexes.
The North West Coast, and Burnie in particular, also has some of the highest rates of chronic health conditions in the state including heart conditions, diabetes and obesity.
Against this backdrop, the availability of fresh, local produce becomes increasingly important.
Produce to the People began in the summer of 2009 when I had a bumper crop of tomatoes in my backyard garden. Many others did as well and it seemed there might be a lot of produce going to waste. I did some online research and found a project I really liked in San Francisco, got in touch with them and PttP was born in Tasmania – auspiced by an existing incorporated association – the northwest environment centre.
We grew from a back-yard vegetable gathering project to a community-wide food distribution & primary school gardening initiative that gathered an average 25,000 kilos of fresh, locally grown produce that might otherwise have gone to waste (with a $240,000 market value) & taught children in 7 Primary Schools how to grow their own dinner. Through this work, hundreds of vulnerable people in the North West of Tasmania had the opportunity to improve their nutritional intake with fresh fruit and vegetables.
So, what began as a local gathering of produce has had many incarnations over the years very much due to the government’s insistence on not funding ongoing projects but always wanting something shiny and new to announce.
And now we are based on The Farm at Burnie High School – a school farm that has been in existence for 20 years but had not been used as such for four years when we took over in 2015. We are also now an IA in our own right with a proactive board who is, as we speak looking into getting DGR status for the organisation – because if you want the big bucks you need to be a tax write off for someone.
We LOVE our home on The Farm at Burnie High and it makes a real difference to have an HQ.
What happens on The Farm?
Community Food Hub –
We have set up the old mechanics workshop as a fresh food hub. It looks like a greengrocer and anyone in the community can come and access the food we grow, gather and give. We ask NO questions of anyone that comes to us as we believe there should be dignity with food access.
We have seen a 79% increase in the number of people accessing food in the past year even though we have reduced the hours we are open. In 2015 we saw 5214 people through our gate and in 2016 we saw 9342. (There are 20,000 people in Burnie and we are open 2 half days each week). The people we see are a real cross section of the community. Of course anyone surviving on a pension is living below the poverty line so we see many older women and men, young mums, couch surfing blokes, people that may have been retrenched or have lost their job, people who have just moved into accommodation and after paying bond and rent can’t manage food as well. And lately an increase in working poor, and even people who have had food stolen from their houses.
Our focus is on FRESH produce. We supplement what we grow on site with produce from Second Bite, strawberries from Costa, bread from Woolworths and a local bakery, cheese from Lion, as well as backyard grown produce. We purchase food from Foodbank around once a month based on the amount of coin donations we might receive each month – pantry staples such as pasta, breakfast cereal and some tinned products such as tuna and beans.
The Farm –
We believe it is vitally important to grow on site and we are lucky enough to have the space to do so – including buildings around 2 acres. Being able to show students and our customers how their food is grown opens the door for better food choices.
We have two areas set up for produce that goes into the food hub, two areas for commercial production and the garden at our entrance that is a food forest that people can forage through. We have a hot house where we grow seedlings – we are also very lucky to access a range of seedlings free from a local business that supplies all the large farms in the State. We are in the process of setting up a micro green production centre as we have several customers in place to supply.
We grow apples, nashi, plums, tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, radish, rocket, cucumbers, kale, potatoes, pumpkins, rhubarb, silver beet, spinach, spring onion, squash, spaghetti squash, sweet corn, water chestnuts, yacon, zucchini and garlic.
In 2016 we grew and gathered 29000 kilos of produce and gave it to the most vulnerable in our community.
One of the big issues moving forward is climate change. We have seen such a difference in crop production even in the few years we have been growing and of course it impacts on the availability of seconds available from larger farm operations. We are also VERY dependent now on volunteers as we are down to one part time paid employee. This is due to not being able to roll over work for the dole contracts which = a supervisor and working hands and no longer having any Australian Government assistance (a blessing and a curse).
We would be nothing without our volunteers and we are very lucky to attract such amazing people. They are family.
We run a volunteer orientation hour once a month, have an induction process and all vols must have a working with vulnerable people check before they can start with us.
We have volunteers form Multicap who come with a support worker. From ARC – people with acquired brain injury – again with a support worker.
Burnie High School students who participate in the TAPP program (Trainee and Apprenticeship Pathway Program) and work placement students with high needs who are part of the BHS Happy Room program.
Local business Caterpillar have just begun a corporate volunteering program with us and they have come on site to do a major clean up of the farm as well as extend our orchard and install a flow hive. They will also be growing produce back at their workplace to come to the food hub.
We have an AMAZING group of individuals as well who come in each week and I do not know what we do without them.
The Volunteering Tasmania cost of volunteering calculator tells us our vols deliver $290,614 in value to the Tasmanian community each year
Farm Tours –
We offer tours for school students, vacation care programs and pretty much anyone that wants to come see what we do! There is nothing better that having a group of kinder kids getting their hands dirty hunting for worms, looking for eggs, planting seeds in pots to take away, feeding the alpacas, tasting, smelling and feeling the different herbs. The looks on their faces when they see that potatoes grow underground, or taste an apple picked straight from the tree. Priceless.
Social Enterprise –
We believe we should be funded via the taxes collected by the Australian government, but also on income generated via social enterprise projects.
Our current board has real strengths in this area and we are much more focused on generating income via:
Events, value add products and fresh produce sales to restaurants.
Is it the role of government to fund programs that care for the most vulnerable in the community?
If it is:
- We need to get the bureaucrats out of their offices and on the ground in cities, suburbs and regional areas. A real government education process is required.
In 2014 PTTPT lost 100% of all Federal funding ($70,000 in 2013/14) as it was deemed by the incoming (Liberal) government that we had been funded via “underspend”.
The new Australian Government guidelines for grants indicate National organisations are favored recipients. PttPT is a North West Tasmanian grown project with no links to National organisations at present, which meant we were ineligible to apply. National orgs such as Foodbank and SecondBite did received Federal funding for Emergency Food Relief ($1.925 million for foodbank and $641,666 for SecondBite) however a breakdown of the percentage of funds used in Tasmania is unavailable. The Director of the Department and a question to Senate Estimates were unable to give a breakdown of any of this money coming directly to Tasmania.
- Bigger is not better.
- Statewide roll out of a successful local program is probably asking for failure.
- Projects that play a part in delivering long-term health outcomes require long term bipartisan funding.
- We are good at what we do and we have amazing community support.
This means our in kind contribution is high – hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. But this means we need $’s to PAY PEOPLE. We fail to see what the dilemma is for government and other funding bodies to FUND PEOPLE. If you fund us to create 3 full time equivalent jobs this means we can build the business side of our program WHICH IS WHAT YOU WANT US TO DO – so we can become more financially independent.
- Don’t ask us to collaborate AND compete for very limited funds – community services is the most cutthroat area I have ever worked in!
- Fund healthy food option programs. Quantity does not equal quality. How about we focus on providing our most vulnerable the most nutritious food options?
- We need to check our climate change policies – we have already seen how on a local level food production is impacted, what does this mean for the ag sector and the flow on effects to the dinner table.
Thank you so much for your interest. If you happen to venture to NW Tasmania, pop in and say hello, we’ll be happy to show you around our Farm.