IT WAS a chance meeting that planted the seed of an idea in the mind of Kyneton mother Melissa Connors to enlist retired farmers to help tree-changers.
Melissa is the woman behind The Farm Needs a Farmer project, which hooks up new farmers with more experienced, retired farmers.
The project, which aims to bring communities together while reviving acreage properties, recently received an $18,000 cash boost from the Victorian government.
Melissa moved to a four-hectare Kyneton farm in 2012 with her family, but knew very little about hobby farming.
“My husband works in the city, but moving here was something we always wanted to do so we decided to give it a go,” she said.
But like many tree-change farmers, the Connors, who moved from a small block in outer Melbourne, found their limited farming experience and skills were holding them back.
“We did things backwards. We put six black Angus steers on it before even looking at the fences. We’d come out and they’d be on the road,” said Melissa, describing this time as a “steep learning curve”.
“We knew nobody and we didn’t know what to do.”
But one day she spotted retired farmer Noel Jenner walking past her property.
“He would stroll past our farm gate every day, and we got chatting,” she said.
“I asked Noel what he did and he told me ‘I’m off the land, so what do I do now?’ He had so much knowledge in his head and nowhere to put it.”
It was then that Melissa decided to create This Farm Needs a Farmer.
“These farmers have the knowledge and the right tools. It’s not reinventing the wheel; it is getting them to put their knowledge back into the community.
“It is also about giving them some purpose. The farmer may move off the land and then can’t work the land.
“A lot of the time their kids haven’t taken over the land or it might be the wife who wants to have her turn and go and live in town, for example.”
Since launching the project, Melissa has worked with Noel – now a close friend – to turn her idea into reality. She also has a successful working cycle for her beef steers!
“I’ve also noticed a bit of spark back in Noel’s eyes,” she said. “He does have a lot of things to give.”
Melissa said older farmers could be involved as much as they wanted. Their help might be one on one or perhaps within a group, depending on the needs of the community.
As well as visiting men’s sheds, RSLs and going door-knocking, Melissa will be at the Kyneton Show in November, in an effort to recruit more participants. She has already had people contacting her from all over Australia.
“These farmers are often guys who have seen it all – they’ve seen the fly-by-nighters come in with their big ideas.
“So at the moment the it’s all about recruiting and getting as many farmers, tree-changers and businesses on board.
“It is a model I am trying to build throughout the Macedon Ranges but think it would work in any regional or rural centre. The foundations are being built and the floodgates will open.”
The project is supported by Macedon Ranges Shire Council and Kyneton Agricultural Society.