The Organic & Regenerative Investment Cooperative kicked off the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal with the fires in November 2020. What started as a $12,000 load of hay to NSW bushfire affected farmers has grown into a significant appeal. Now capturing more than $324,000 (including financial, donations & in-kind support) in value, this has directly benefited each of the bushfire affected organic farmers in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia!
Collectively between supportive organic farmers, best practice organic advisors, volunteer teams, our bushfire committee and donors, ORICoop has brought together a band of knowledge, experience and learnings. This network can only enhance the long term resilience and benefit of the organic industry. We thank each of you – and we are not finished yet!
Breakdown of $324,000 raised (and mostly distributed) bushfire appeal funds so far includes:-
- $89,000 cash raised
- $28,907 donated organic inputs
- $72,000 donated organic fodder
- $14,611 freight subsidy (fodder)
- $85,000 donated professional time
- $35,000 donated volunteer coordination
Best Practice Organic Farm Expertise
For many of the bushfire affected farmers – the best ‘value’ of the Appeal, has been their appointed volunteer bushfire recovery consultant. They have walked through the biology (courtesy of AgPath) and soil nutrient (EAL) tests with each farmer. From this data they identified the effect of the bushfires and the needs of their farm recovery. Together with ascertaining the physical damage and parameters using a Visual Soil Assessment and photos, these farmers are now on their road to recovery. Though the journey ahead is likely to be long and hard, the farmers won’t be walking alone.
Donated organic inputs
We would like to pay tribute to the organic input providers that have generously supported this Appeal. These are all organically certified products – and each has been tailored to the needs of these farms and their recovery.
Where to from here?
The Bushfire Committee is currently finalising the last of the applications for the Appeal and putting in place plans for ongoing support of the fire affected farmers. Now with the COVID-19 restrictions easing, the Committee is looking forward to finalising plans around bushfire recovery workshops and volunteer projects.
ORICoop has a need for volunteers to assist with the following (depending on the COVID-19 restrictions of course)
- Coordinated tree planting days
- Native tree fundraisers in your region
- Native animal box making
- Weed blitz days
- Bushfire recovery workshop coordination
- Marketing assistance
- Volunteer Coordination assistance
Register to be a volunteer HERE
Fundraising and community networking
Contact us if you are interested in hosting a community fundraiser – with funds to support bushfire affected organic farmers in your closest region. ORICoop is keen to see these farmers be supported for the long term. For some this is going to take months to years to recover. Ongoing community support for these farmers to continue is very important. Some of the farms have lost 30-40% of their orchards, with much of the bushland and wildlife destroyed. Many have lost infrastructure not least fencing, thousands of metres of irrigation and annual fodder stores.
Farmers tell their stories
We look forward to sharing more about these farmers, and their courageous stories of resilience and recovery. Christine Watts and Kym Green joined Carolyn, talking about the Bushfire Appeal as part of the Farming Secrets Summit HERE Both of these farmers show much courage and grit from the devastation they felt. And the heart behind their farming choices.
You can also catch up with more stories around the Bushfires, in our upcoming BioLogical Journal. And you can follow our Instagram page HERE.
Stay Well – and now more than ever, support your local organic farmers!
(photos supplied by Kym Green – credit to Nutri-Soil for their generous donations!)
The stories are shadowed right now by COVID – 19, but we know these bushfire affected farmers are rising from the ashes, and their resilience will be a shining light to all of us. We are thinking of the regional communities affected by bushfires, and their impending risk and impact of the virus on their people and place. May strength and resilience be our friends through these uncertain times.
As these farmers take stock and move forward with their recovery journey – it has been incredible to see the photos of the greening orchards, the response to the rains, and natures’ assurance of ‘it’s going to be ok’. And how the environment has a way of it’s own in recovery, some of which we don’t give her credit for. At least not to the extent we should!
The great outcome from the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal, has been connecting some of the leading biological and organic consultants together, to nut out the best process and plan for recovery for these organic farmers. As these farmers recover, we look forward to sharing their stories, and the journey of their soil, farm and businesses being restored.
The first steps to recovery for any farm post bushfires, or other natural disasters is assessment. Both physically, biologically, and above the ground.
All these farmers have been encouraged to follow this process, outlined by Gerhard HERE. These steps can be followed by any farmers looking to become more aware of the biological strengths and weaknesses of their soils. These key steps include:-
Once these tests are done – you can put all three together to obtain an accurate picture of the effects of the bushfire, both on the biological response, and the nutrient load or bank. It has been really interesting seeing these results come through for each of the bushfire affected farmers. And the diversity of farm systems (all organic), together with the expertise of the farmers themselves (some with more than 30 years of experience in organic farm systems), with the biological consultants. If you are interested to engage with any of these specialist consultants, you can contact us directly and we will put you in touch. You can also join the Organic & Biodynamic Farmers Facebook group – to ask any questions of your fellow farmers.
I was privileged to join a call between Gerhard Grasser and Greg Paynter, both pioneers and long term supporters of the organic industry. Highly experienced in soil agronomy, biological principles, organic standards and sustainable growing systems. Together they discussed the latest soil and biology tests for each of the farmers, the way that the Bushfire Appeal funds could be best utilised to get the most efficiency from the existing nutrients from the results, and to restore the biology to support the tree and soil systems over the long term.It is so clear that there is not one single answer. That every farm is different. That every farmer has a different response. The one aspect that is clear – is that together we are better. Together when farmers can share their stories of fire affected pastures and orchards, when leading consultants can liaise together to learn from each other’s strengths – that is when our industry has the opportunity to grow and prosper. We look forward to fostering that. More and more.
ORICoop is proud to have stepped forward to assist these farmers in their hour of darkness. And we will put together these stories as case studies for future farmers to use. And we hope that with each natural disaster, we can build case studies of resilience, or ways that farmers have used natural means to work with nature, and to see restoration as a journey, not a destination.
If you are a bushfire affected organic or biodynamic farmer – make sure you have applied to the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal. Due to COVID-19, it has been agreed that the Appeal applications will close mid-April. So the funds raised can offer direct assistance to those that need it. And see their farms through recovery. As much as possible.
** We would like to take this moment to thank all our biological consultants for their efforts to date. Offering pro-bono support to these bushfire affected farmers. And to EAL and AgPath for offering their soil & biology tests at cost to these affected farmers (cost covered by bushfire appeal funds).
In conclusion. It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the postponement of our ALL volunteering events for bushfire affected farmers until further notice. We are saddened to have cancelled all the volunteer projects in the pipeline – due to COVID-19 risk.
The overriding need for ORICoop is to display social responsibility and enact the Ethic of Care for People, both those volunteering and the affected farmers. The idea of spending time around other people practicing social distancing on farm volunteer weekends, cooking and eating dinners together and close proximity is too complex and risky for all. And really… no contact affects much of the intention and purpose of our volunteer projects. We are really sorry. Both to the hundreds of keen volunteers, but mostly to the bushfire affected farmers, that were all looking forward to hosting these projects, and seeing works done in their road to recovery.
Thanks to the many good folk that helped promote these events and we’ll be back in touch with some alternative dates in the springtime. Thanks especially to Penny & Amy, for all their work in pre-planning and promotion of these events.
We are all in this together. Thank a farmer for your next meal! Share this blog with your friends – we are stronger together.
Carolyn & ORICoop Team.
As we launch into such uncertain times – it is critical we connect local farmers, food, events (virtually) and encourage all of use to look out for each other and see the world through old wise eyes.
Our grandparents lived through war times, of basic rations, of raw food, of eating what was available. We all need to return to our roots, and remember what our elders taught us. We need to be the shining lights to our farmers, communities, and localised food systems. Now more than ever. And to deeply care about each other, our communities and the planet.
We hope these resources will help you to share this in your community – and let us know your own local champions so we can grow this list nationwide!
As many events and conferences are either cancelled or transitioned to a virtual format, ORICoop recognizes that farmers, food servers, and all those who labor to grow, harvest, prepare, and serve our food are among those most impacted by economic and health effects of COVID-19 and many with limited access to quality medical care in regional areas. Adopting attitudes of empathy and care is needed more than ever to protect our most vulnerable.
At a time when we are seeing impacts on global supply chains, we see the urgent need for our local economy and community resilience. It is a critical time to buy nutrient-rich food from local farms in your area and to take advantage of home delivery where possible. By supporting policies and models for locally owned land and shared ecological stewardship, we can all ensure there is a future where local organic agriculture supports our health, carbon is sequestered in our soils, and sustainable stewardship of the earth provides a pathway for our generation and future generations to connect with the land and to each other.
PLACES TO BUY FOOD LOCALLY IN YOUR REGION?
Looking for your local food or farm initiatives?
PRACTICAL STEPS YOU CAN DO IMMEDIATELY….
- Start making your own bread
- Plant food, small or large garden!
- Buy a local, seasonal box of vegetables regularly
- Make the most of everything, waste little
- Preserve, pickle and freeze
- Share with those in need
- Start your own foodies collective
See more suggestions HERE from Milkwood Permaculture
How can ORICoop help?
ORICoop brings together farmers, eaters, businesses and partners to directly support farmers in their time of need. Together we are focussed on increasing the amount, diversity and productivity of organically and regeneratively managed farmland around Australia, while building a resilient food and farming system that can change the way our farmers do business…. for the better!
There has never been a better time to care more about your community! Join ORICoop today, and connect more closely with your food system, one meal at a time.
“The support we have received has been brilliant. More than you know, you have all supported us and helped us to rise beyond the ashes. Thank you.” Those are the words of Christine and Chris Watts from Blue Sky Organics (above left pic – with Ian Watts on the right). Over the past two weekends, our first volunteer project has taken place with the Watts family from East Gippsland.
Fire burned through 95% of the Watts’ farm near Buchan, East Gippsland on New Years Eve. When they were allowed back onto the property a week later, they discovered that miraculously the fire had gone around the shed holding their drying garlic crop, along with their historic cottage and Fergie tractor. But nothing else was spared.
Penny Kothe, ORICoop Volunteer Coordinator extraordinaire (that’s Penny above in the middle of right hand pic), pulled together a team of a dozen volunteers to travel to East Gippsland and camp out for 4 days to help process the garlic for market. Together we snipped and cleaned 600kg of organic garlic!
CERES Fair Food has been a Blue Sky Organics garlic supporter since day one – Chris Ennis has written wonderful reflections on the Blue Sky Organics story so far: The Healing Process and Open Hearts – a must read, both of them! And, you can see more of the Blue Sky Organics farm and their farming principles in this video. It has been a privilege to be involved in the start of the recovery process for this family and their organic business.
As Christine Watts says, “The challenge for people after the fires is going to be the ongoing trauma. After all the initial attention fades people will feel forgotten – that’s why we need to keep coming together to heal.”
Last Saturday, the project continued in Preston at the CERES Fair Food warehouse, with a whole new team of volunteers (pictured above), to process the elephant garlic that was discovered to be heat damaged from the fires during our first weekend on the farm. ORICoop has supported Blue Sky Organics to find an alternative market for the elephant garlic – originally intended as seed garlic. Now perfect as a food grade garlic – ready for a creative product! Special thanks to Mohammed (pictured below) – for his generosity of spirit in managing the day at CERES, and rallying more volunteers from their packing team for the week, to see the Creole garlic fully completed by the end of the week. We cannot thank you and your team enough!
Reflecting on the previous weekend, Christine wrote: “These gorgeous people, whom we didn’t know before Thursday, held our hands and hearts as we realised our normally brilliant elephant garlic was not suitable for it’s normal purpose. The fires continue to take their toll for so many people who thought they were nearly through the worst of it. “They also helped us see there were solutions. Solutions that no doubt we would not have imagined possible amidst the busyness of recovery. “The greatest gift we received over this time, and as a result of the fires, is connection”
On our first volunteer weekend over 75% of the volunteers’ food was donated – almost all organic, locally grown and direct from producers across Victoria! Special thanks go to Christine Li – our incredible volunteer cook. And to CERES Fair Food, Hazeldean Farm, Timbarra Farm, Schulz Organic, Tarago Valley, Organic Angels, Loafers & Dench Bread, Crofter Dining, Peninsula Organics, Zankers Organic Ways Eggs, High Country Eggs & All Things Natural for their generous donations of organic food! Plus Rodwells & Yenckens in Mansfield for gloves and secateurs. And thanks also to CERES & Baw Baw Food Hub for their generosity as central collection points!
We will continue to work together to help organic and biodynamic farmers affected by the bushfires. We have been grateful to those in the organic industry that have walked beside us to support these farmers. Ben Copeman from Southern Cross Certified met with these farmers from East Gippsland last week, to help them with free organic certification amidst the complexity and cost of fire recovery. And volunteered to assist these local farmers in their long recovery journey back. His heartfelt response was simple – he will never forget the generosity shown to him when their farm was burnt all those years ago.
The real challenge for these farmers is in long-term support, and real support happens slowly, for long-term recovery. That’s why we’re planning to return to Blue Sky Organics and East Gippsland in winter, to help regenerate the oasis of land with native plantings.
Our next volunteer projects are coming up at Prana Produce in Braidwood, where we are looking for longer term volunteers. And Ontos Organics in East Gippsland, together with Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island to come shortly. Register here if you’d like to be on the mailing list for these and future projects to support farmer recovery.
Join us on Instagram!
ORICoop has launched a new Instagram account specifically for the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal – check it out here. You can see more of our first volunteer project with Blue Sky Organics, the incredible events that continue to happen and partners that are joining the Appeal. We will be sharing more farmer stories, volunteer projects, and joining in the conversation about recovery, regeneration and positive community led direct action here and on our blog.
A few more shout-outs!
Great to see people out there fundraising for the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal right around the country and beyond. In Perth, Organic Grocery Store, Dunn & Walton sold coffee and scrolls with 100% of sales to the appeal recently – thanks so much! Over in Harcourt, Victoria the Gung Hoe Growers have put together a sold out Luscious Local Bushfire Fundraiser, with many Central Victorian producers chipping in – it’s going to be a feast and many donated local goodies are up for grabs on the night in the raffle. In the Adelaide Hills, The Organic Market & Cafe has been raising funds at the store for the past month – thanks Bron and Graham and all your customers!
And in Paris this week, Tasmanian fermentation guru Adam James came together with a group of friends including Australian chefs James Henry and Shaun Kelly to cook a special dinner with proceeds to both the Appeal and Firesticks Alliance. Not only that – the group are holding a silent auction, with many generous and talented people donating goods and their time for unique experiences to be bid on – including a private farm tour and lunch at James and Shaun’s La Ferme du Doyenné farm project, with bidding currently sitting at 720 Euros – amazing!
Thanks everyone for your support! And make sure you keep up to date with our next steps via our blog HERE and the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal
Amy, Carolyn, Penny & the team at ORICoop
On Thursday afternoon the cars began arriving at Christine and Chris Watts’ Paynesville farm. Parking in an empty horse paddock, people lay out tents and swags, pull on work shirts and boots and introduce themselves. All of us have been drawn here by the desire to help out after the fires. Among the twelve volunteers is a young economist, a retired nurseryman, an arborist, a nurse and two organic farmers – who themselves had been burnt out three years previously.
At 6.30am the next morning, Penny, our volunteer coordinator gets us out of bed for a briefing. Under a makeshift shade beside drying racks filled with Creole, Silverskin and enormous fist-sized Russian Garlic, Penny explains that over the next three days we will be trimming and cleaning more than a ton of garlic. And so we make a start – clipping stems, talking, snipping roots, talking, rubbing off skins, talking.
CERES Fair Food has been buying Blue Sky Organics garlic since Chris and Christine’s daughter Madeline harvested their first crop as an eighteen year old ten years ago. The Watts family business grow their garlic up on their Murrindal River flats property north of Buchan Caves.
On New Years Eve the fire went through their farm. It was a week before Chris and Christine were allowed back in, escorted by police. When they got to the farm they couldn’t believe what they saw; everything had burned bar their drying garlic, a historic cottage and their tractor. With the fire continuing to flare in the surrounding bush they decided to bring the garlic back to their place near Paynesville for cleaning.
That lunchtime, our economist also our volunteer cook, has prepared an amazing spread from an abundance of food donated by farmers and organic businesses. Everyone wants to help; there’s milk from Schulz Dairy, bread from Dench and Loafer, eggs from Zanker Farm, apples from Hazeldean, veg from Peninsula Organics and Timbarra, bananas from Organic Growers Group even a delicious biriyani from Crofters restaurant. As we eat Christine Watts confesses they haven’t been cooking much lately – being adrenalised for a month has left the family in a collective brain-fog that manifests in inertia, forgetting and bursts of anger.
Early the next morning we drive up the Buchan Road to the Watts’ farm in Murrindal to collect two more trailer loads of garlic. Everything is normal until we hit Sarsfield, 19kms outside of Bairnsdale. Houses have disappeared leaving ghostly white concrete stumps. You can feel the panic from the hastily cut trees – dropped and shoved aside. We follow a truck loaded with round bales through kilometres of blackened forest. Already epicormic leaves are sprouting from eucalypt trunks but so many more seem too burned to come back. Recent rains have painted farm paddocks bright green. The contrast with the black trees gives everything an oddly benign feel.
We pass burnt houses here while others stand untouched and I recall lines from my old friend Pete Auty’s Black Saturday poem…
I don’t understand. Why this and not that?
Why burn on the ridges and not on the flat?
The little pink cottage surrounded by black,
The mud-brick houses reduced to wrack.
At the Watts’ farm the fire has burnt the bush on the ridges surrounding the property. But the grass has come back making the burnt-out hay baler sitting on its rusty wheel rims just a few meters from the garlic racks seem completely incongruous. We load the garlic stems and a kookaburra’s call builds and fills the river valley below us. Chris says when they first returned to the farm it was silent. But now the birds are coming back. Later on the way home we see a lyrebird scampering across the road and our spirits lift.
Back in Paynesville the news isn’t good; the Russian garlic we’ve begun cleaning seems to have been cracked by the fire’s heat. Christine hopes it’s just a bad batch but as the day progresses it becomes clear that 90% of the crop is affected. Most of these bulbs were to be sold as seed. Christine doesn’t know if they will be viable now. Everybody feels the strain and works on.
By dinner though we are sharing food and smiling once again. We eat and tell stories and later over ice cream, organiser Carolyn Suggate, explains that the most powerful part of the Appeal is the deepening of our relationships with each other, with our farmers, our food and our land. When I leave the following day I feel like I have been here a couple of weeks – the openness of Christine and Chris, the way shared manual work brings strangers together the opportunity to help, to learn, to appreciate and to bare witness is a privilege.
You can volunteer or donate to the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal here
You can find Blue Sky Organic creole garlic at Fair Food and CERES Grocery
Hold farmers in high esteem at through these tough times.
Written by Chris from CERES
Since early December, ORICoop has been championing the Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal to directly assist organic and biodynamic farmers across Southern Australia to get through the bushfire crisis and back farming as quickly as possible.
Our original target was to raise $14,000 for one (1) semi-load of organic hay to fire-affected dairy farmers in NSW. The response was amazing with enough donations of hay, transport and cash to fund six (6) truck-loads of certified organic feed for desperate farmers! Since then bushfires have continued to burn out farms across Southern Australia and we’ve renewed our target to $50,000, and we’re getting closer daily – with over $40,000 raised so far and we are far from finished!
100% of Appeal funds will directly assist farmers to Restore, Rejuvenate and Regenerate themselves and their farmland by:-
- replacing essential farming equipment
- buying certified organic fodder & grain
- providing livestock transport to alternative organic farmland
- funding new seasons plantings
- replacing burnt fruit & nut trees
- restoring vegetation
- coordinating teams of volunteers to restore farms
In the coming weeks we’ll be ascertaining farmers needs across different regions and allocating Appeal funds to as many organic & biodynamic farms as we can – farmers can register for support here.
LEND A HELPING HAND
We are calling out for volunteers to support recovery efforts after the fire danger has passed. If you have the skills, time or are just keen to lend a hand then register HERE
Businesses can support the Appeal by:
- Encouraging customers to make a donation at the register
- Including this flyer in weekly food boxes, or on the shop counter
- Sharing the Appeal in your next email newsletter
- Offsetting your carbon footprint with tree purchase(s) to be planted on fire-affected farms – contact ORICoop for details
- Spreading the word on social media and amongst your networks
- Sharing this Starting Again resource with your bushfire affected farmers
Farmers can lend their support by:
The Organic Farmers Bushfire Appeal is coordinated by ORICoop (Organic & Regenerative Investment Co-operative) bringing together farmers, consumers, businesses and partners to support bushfire affected farmers in this time of need. Together we are focussed on increasing the amount, diversity and productivity of organically & regeneratively managed farmland around Australia, while building a resilient Australian food and farming system that can change the way our farmers do business … for the better!