When we first began growing in Mullumbimby, I was amazed to discover that most of our fresh food is being brought in from other growing regions around Australia rather than being grown and distributed here. With an increasing amount of Australia’s fertile land been sold off to private land owners who aren’t necessarily going to use the land to produce crops….this represents a very particular challenge, to maintain local food production and improve food sovereignty in our region. Land values in our area and many others around Australia have increased substantially, and more and more land is being sold for housing. It is understood that supporting small scale local agriculture is a real solution for many of the maladies of modern society, by decreasing food miles, providing seasonal local food, a connection to farmers, minimising freight and transportation costs etc.
It has been argued that as real estate values increase in certain regions so should agricultural land values also increase. However, produce prices fluctuate due to supply and demand and while the cost of running a farm has increased significantly over the years, people do not pay more for produce than they did in years gone by. While we choose not to begrudge anyone for asking for what they either need or what they believe their land is worth, we have found that larger rental rates are prohibitive to a financially sustainable small market garden business, and without the generosity of our current Landlords we could not be providing the service of growing Cert Organic produce to the community in the way that we do. And the question remains, “How can we support local farmers to grow in regions where land values are becoming so high?”
We attended a weekend gathering called Deep Winter Agrarian a couple of months ago and this topic was discussed at length. Some people’s experiences have been very difficult with agreements for land leases being reached as high as 25% of gross profit. On small farm enterprises this can present a too high cost, whereas on larger monoculture enterprises economies of scale can make such lease arrangements viable. In North America communities are coming together and organising the purchasing of land surrounding some towns and and small cities and placing them in trusts to stay as agricultural land in perpetuity through co-operative investment. ORIC; Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative is an example of an Australian initiative.
It makes no sense to decrease farmers’ profitability by having them pay high rental for growing fruits and vegetables that directly support the local community. The danger in this situation is that if farmers cannot afford to grow in certain regions of Australia due to inaccessibility to affordable land, these regions may end up with less regional agriculture, forcing the local community into buying the majority of the produce from large corporate farms located vast distances away, and increasing our dependence on imported produce which is commonly irradiated and sprayed with toxic chemicals such as methyl bromide. There is definitely some movement in the direction of local food sovereignty, but presently it is slow and willingness may be lacking due to consumers not being aware that for all the benefits and convenience that supermarkets provide they are slowly but surely edging out smaller producers in favour of larger farms that grow such vast volumes of product that up to three quarters of the produce grown can be wasted in order to provide the “perfect” produce you see on the shelves.
We are grateful for the support we do have locally, and find it frustrating that consumers are constantly duped. We believe that education is a key component in growing respect between ourselves and our customers and hope that as we share our experience we may all become more discerning and better informed, as to how our eating and purchasing habits are affecting not only ourselves but also the greater communities, our Earth and all of Nature.
Blessings from Our Gardens!
Isaac and Sheia