Who is SAGE?

Activating, engaging and advocating for local food economies and sustainable food systems.

Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening Eurobodalla (SAGE) is a community-driven initiative created to develop opportunities for sustainable agricultural practices and to support the local small-scale farming community on the south coast of NSW.

It is a not-for-profit incorporated association that runs both an education and demonstration physical farming site and community garden, thriving local farmers market, and supports the growth in local food production through horticultural skills programs and the ‘‘growing the growers’ internship program for young farmers.

Why was SAGE founded?

SAGE witnessed a disconnect with the traditional farming community and felt that the existing farming network did not really want or need to connect with a new generation of growers. Cultural barriers and perception issues were hindering the development and support of small-scale ventures in the community and they wanted to do something about it!

So, established in 2009, SAGE began as an education and demonstration project for sustainable small-scale agricultural and horticultural practices. Their intent was to create the opportunity for people in the region to address the loss of healthy food growing and cooking skills through education in all disciplines of sustainable agriculture and gardening.

Who are their members?

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What are SAGE’s objectives?

SAGE’s mission is to create and support a NSW South Coast sustainable fair food economy and enable food sovereignty for local communities. Their mission is founded on sustainability, agriculture, gardening and local community platform and an intention to develop education and enterprise opportunities to support this mission.

We aim to encourage agricultural models that support thriving local economies, robust communities and a healthy environment.

SAGE aims for a range of community benefits including greater community access to good, clean, local, fair food while increasing local community food production, preparation and cooking knowledge.

What activities are they involved in?

SAGE undertakes a number of activities to support new and young farmers into small scale farming/local food economies. Their primary projects include:

  • Operation and management of SAGE Farmers Markets: This weekly farmers market provides an “authentic marketplace for locally grown or harvested food, connecting local producers directly to the community.”  The SAGE market has been in operation since 2013 and has been recognised by ABC Delicious magazine as the “most outstanding farmers market” (2014).
  • The SAGE Community Gardens: the gardens and associated education, workshop and community programs enable the community to engage, learn and be inspired by local food activities.  The Community Gardens also features the market garden for the Young Farmers Incubator program.
  • “Growing the Growers” – Young Farmer Incubator: The SAGE Young Farmer internship program is now in its sixth consecutive year.  Every year since 2013 they have provided a supportive training program for a new vegetable grower and helped them with training and market access through the SAGE farmers markets and into local foodservice wholesale opportunities. 
  • Local Food Economy Development: SAGE advocates and supports local food policy and is involved in local industry development through networking events, capacity building exercises and building the local food brand and provincial identity.  

What does the SAGE internship entail?

The internship program is a nine-month position whereby the applicant is supported into market gardening with mentorship and guidance from local farmers.  The intern has access to a market garden site without any upfront costs and is offered a small base income via a weekly retainer. This training position is intended to build the skills necessary to develop a new enterprise.

The 9 month internship period includes:

  • Access to established market garden on-site SAGE Community Gardens
  • Zero start-up cost
  • The facility was existing with tools, shed, water etc.
  • Farmers market primary sales outlet + restaurant wholesale connections
  • 70%:30% profit split
  • SAGE funds operational expenses: i.e. seeds, seedlings, water, equipment, land access, insurance
  • Mentorship from an active market gardener
  • A complimentary place in a 6-week part-time market garden workshop, run by Fraser Bayley (Old Mill Farm)
  • Small weekly payment on top of sales: $140 p/w

The internship program gets between 5-10 applications per year. There are not high expectations for financial success, rather the SAGE goal is simply to support new growers to have a working experience of small scale agriculture.

Past SAGE interns include:

Kyle: @Fulcrum_farm Had been farming small plot and distributing through farmers/wholesale markets, has recently ceased farming due to land security and is now farming interstate.
Kat: @kat_lunaharvest Currently farming a small plot in the local community and distributing through farmers markets.
Sasha: @leaf_and_petal Currently farming a small plot in the local community and distributing through farmers markets.
Georgie: @soiledhands_saltytoes Currently farming a small plot in the local community and distributing through farmers markets.
Leane : Has decided she will not continue as a grower.

“Freedom to make your own mistakes with the only risk of growing fat worms” Kat (Intern 2016)

What challenges are they facing?

SAGE explains that there remains a sense of a cultural divide between the new generation of farmers wanting to enter the local food economy and the existing land-owners and farmers.  This creates challenges for succession planning and the development of alternative modes for land access and farmland equity.

To bridge this divide, SAGE is undertaking a number of strategies to connect older generation farmers with new growers through farm visits, workshops and seminars.  They have initiated a number of community and networking events such as social gatherings and celebrations of seasonal produce through “Vinyl and Veggies” and the SAGE Seasonal Spread.

What does the future hold for SAGE?

SAGE is continuing to develop programs and project to help support the local food economy. Considerations have been made around shared assets and resources such as coolrooms, refrigerated transport and aggregated distribution and delivery into the larger markets of Sydney and Canberra.

SAGE are exploring innovative solutions to the high cost of land and housing that exist as barriers to entry for new and young farmers. They have been developing and trialling a concept, “Farm in a Box”. This onsite “kit farm” would be all-inclusive startup infrastructure including “tiny home” accommodation and farm equipment.

And there work isn’t stopping there! They are also exploring:

  • a number of complementary programs and partnerships within the local community to increase the capacity and outcomes of the farmer incubator program.  Community Colleges for specialised training and other RTO could provide formal training and certificate programs and programs such as NEIS could support small business management skills
  • a need for young farmers to have access to business management tools such as financial planning and record-keeping templates and consider the need for a “Young Farmer Toolkit”
  • and much more!

Summary

Profile Overview:

  • Community Organisation : NFP Incorporated Association
  • Local Food Economies / Small Scale Farming / Sustainable Farming

Links:

Primary Contacts:

  • Kate Raymond​: SAGE Coordinator / Farmers markets
  • Fraser Bayley: SAGE Young Farmer Incubator / Education / Old Mill Farm – Internship Program
  • Stuart Whitelaw: SAGE President
  • Leanne Nicolle: Young Farmer – Incubator Alumni                       
  • Kat Cathcart: Young Farmer – Incubator Alumni
  • Kyle Levier: Young Farmer – Incubator Alumni / Mentor

Regional Overview:

  • South Coast NSW – Eurobodalla Shire: Population profile |  Permanent residents approx 40,000, visiting population +3 Million per annum
  • The high concentration of smallholdings: between 5ha – 50ha
  • Typical Regional Ag Industries profile (In order of commodity value): Dairy, Livestock, Nursery/Cut Flowers, Oysters and Fisheries, Hay crops, Wool,  Other Fruits, Vegetables, Other.

Neighbouring and Associated Networks:

Southern Harvest www.southernharvest.org.au   Farmers Markets / Education / Market development / Brand development / Local Food
Sapphire Coast Producers Association www.scpa.org.au Farmers Markets / Educations / Market Development / Food Security / Farm Auditing / Organics / Local Food
Capital Region Small Farms Network www.smallfarmscapital.org Information Network / LLS / Landcare / Land management

 

This case study is part of the Young Farmer Business Program’s series on Small Scale Scale Farming. Be sure to check out the other case studies!