For many Australians living in metropolitan areas, knowledge of life on a farm has come from a show like McLeod’s Daughters. Unfortunately, just as any doctor would tell you that no, Grey’s Anatomy does not accurately depict working in a hospital, a day in the life of a character on McLeod’s Daughters isn’t exactly the reality for most farmers.
Looking to bridge the divide and connect metropolitan Australians to the farm gate is Visit My Farm, an initiative developed and currently being trialled by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
The woman behind the platform is Sonia Muir, manager of business and social resilience programs at DPI. It all came about, she explained, through a project run through the Australian Futures Project and DPI, which got a couple of dozen people involved in primary industries together to look at challenges facing the space in NSW and how they could be addressed.
“A colleague and I were looking at the disconnect between country and city; in the past, people had relations or friends who lived on farms, but now we’re more urbanised, so we were thinking, how can we use some of the disruptive economy processes to create an opportunity where farmers and visitors could meet and have an on-farm experience?” Muir explained.
“We looked at the likes of Uber and Airbnb, where they’re creating a platform where people can get together and the transaction happens on the platform and then it’s a people-to-people opportunity. What we’re interested in is people understanding and valuing how food and fibre is produced.”
The core problem Visit My Farm is trying to solve is that of connection; while many city-dwellers may be interested in visiting and learning more about a farm, unless they know a farmer, getting onto a farm is difficult.
“This is about opening the farm gate in a controlled environment, led by the farmer and supervised by the farmer, so people can meet and have a chat with a farmer and see what happens on a farm,” Muir said.
As it currently works, a user can head to to Visit My Farm and look at the farms either listed or via a map, clicking through to a profile explaining what experience that farm offers and how much an experience would cost; experiences can range from a one hour visit through to overnight stays.
When a farm piques their interest, the user sends through a booking request, which goes to Muir. The DPI team will then notify the farmer, who then takes it from there to get in contact with the potential visitor and set up an experience.
Visit My Farm is currently working through a “very simple, lean trial”, Muir explained, with DPI having first put out a call of interest a few months ago to see if farmers would be keen to get on board.
Over 50 have expressed interest, with 20 or so already listed on the platform, ranging from alpaca farmers through to olive farmers. Despite it being a NSW DPI initiative, a couple of farmers in Queensland and Victoria have signed on.
Their reasons for signing on also vary. Some have already done a bit of work in agritourism, while others wanted to dip their toes into the water but didn’t know how to start before Visit My Farm.
Muir explained, “Visit My Farm is an opportunity for them to see whether there is potential to diversify their farm and do a bit of value-adding on the side.”
Beyond connecting farmers to visitors and setting up basic guidelines, DPI is quite hands-off when it comes to the running of experiences.
“We’ve tried to make sure the experiences are supervised and have advised farmers that they need to do a simple induction when people arrive to make people aware of work health and safety issues, and to make sure they’re covered by their insurance to run experiences on the farm,” Muir said.
“Because it’s a very lean MVP, we haven’t gone into aspects like training of farmers or giving them a whole lot of resources around building experiences, we’ve left that up to the farmers. I think for projects like this it has to be driven by the farmer, because the farmer is a busy person running a business, so it’s got to fit around their business and what’s happening on their farm on their day.”
With half a dozen or so visits already having taken place, Muir said the challenge now in this trial is to market proof the concept. Given her base and network in Orange and the agricultural sector, getting word out about Visit My Farm on that side has been easy – it’s marketing the concept to potential consumers that’s at the top of the to-do list.
Visit My Farm is just one of several initiatives Muir is working on, however, with the Young Farmer Business Project another.
This is looking to solve the problem of getting young people who want to get into farming, into the business of farming. DPI conducted a survey of young farmers to find out what barriers they faced, and discovered that one of the most common was finance.
In an effort to begin combating this problem, DPI has partnered with banks in different locations to run bank-ready workshops, looking to help young farmers understand what they need prepared and what a bank requires from them when they go to obtain a loan to get into or expand a farming business.
“It’s also an opportunity to get young people to think outside the square of thinking that to be a farmer you have to own a farm, because you don’t,” Muir said.
“We talk about the business of farming itself; there’s lot of ways of getting into farming, like share-farming and leasing…there’s a whole range of different ways to build up your expertise, which often may mean you buy a farm down the track.”
You can learn more about Visit My Farm here.
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Image: Visit My Farm host farm Storybrook Alpacas. Source: Visit My Farm.