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SAGE Project InCUBEator officially launched

The SAGE Project InCUBEator was officially launched last Sunday in Moruya. SAGE has been very fortunate to receive a Building Better Regions Fund grant for our "Home Site Accessibility and Consolidation Project" with members and volunteers building this ambitious project since the end of 2017. The community were invited to attend the opening on Sunday to witness the formal opening of the various works completed throughout the gardens, including the official launch of our prototype portable "farmstead", the InCUBEator. SAGE posted "We're very proud of the improvements made at the garden and the progress towards our vision of local food security that the InCUBEator represents." A visit to the website tells more: SAGE has been run on a shoestring budget since we started in 2009. The initial infrastructure at the SAGE Garden was cobbled together mostly from found materials by generous volunteers and it has suited us well enough. However, one limitation to the site development has been the lack of an accessible toilet. The money required to build this critical piece of infrastructure has always been hard to find and hence has taken many years of figuring out how to afford the materials and find the volunteers with enough time to take on the task. The garden has also needed other works to the site, such as more paving, to improve the safety and accessibility for our workshops and events.Another limitation to the site has been the shed area and although it has been adequate and the best value for dollars spent (very, very little) it was in need of an upgrade. Add to this another SAGE initiative — the inCUBEator prototype — and we managed to bundle a big list of works projects into an attractive grant proposal which was successful in securing a contribution from the Building Better Regions Fund, which SAGE has to match dollar for dollar.What is this inCUBEator, you ask? Good question.A couple of years ago under Catherine Potter’s presidency, we came up with a 4-point plan to develop more market gardeners in our region. A local food system needs local growers and while we have a good market at 3pm every Tuesday at Riverside Park, there is still a lot of demand that can’t be filled by our existing base of growers. While the SAGE intern program has had some success, we figured we need to ramp it up and also provide larger scale experience and opportunities for graduate growers to remain in the area.To achieve this will be quite complex, but to keep it simple for this article, we’ll focus on one part. The 4-point plan has the SAGE Garden continuing as it does with the SAGE intern program becoming an entry level learning experience. The next step is to develop a SAGE Student Farm which is to be a significantly sized vegetable production enterprise to develop grower skills and have the graduates ready for their own business — or at the very least become sought after skilled farm workers. This project is currently under development. NOTE: We are looking for land.The next stage is the SAGE 100 Acre Farm. The 100 Acre Farm is to be run much along the lines of the Student Farm concept but incorporates sustainable grazing management for livestock and engages with partner farmers in the fields of dairy, aquaculture and abattoir services among others. This idea has yet to be developed.Which leads me to step 4 and why we’re here. The SAGE Farm inCUBEator. Graduates from the SAGE intern program, the Student Farm and those from outside the program that may have some experience but are not quite farm-ready may still need various agricultural, technical, practical, financial, logistical and personal support to transition from being trainees to establishing their own viable commercial market garden businesses. The next step in our “growing the growers” vision is a farm “incubator”. A business start-up initiative to support new farmers in making this transition. The price of land locally has already gone beyond most farmer’s capacity to develop a farm business and maintain the kind of mortgage repayments that are required without external income. If you can’t make a viable business from farming then the only value a farm has is the personal security of a home or the development potential. Unless we want to see productive landscapes on our rural lands being run by managers that understand ecology then we can only expect to see more Braemar-style developments. Combining those trains of thought, it seems likely that farm owners need to work off-farm, leaving the farm unproductive and unmanaged with even fewer agricultural jobs, meaning potential farmers don’t get a run. Unless!! We believe we can combine the two by encouraging portable farms to thrive, allowing new emerging growers to lease a patch to work for a few years and gain the necessary experience, skill and markets to fully consider the numbers on their own future mortgage. Farm incubators assist new farmers with access to land, resources and expertise to assist them to start up their own independent farm enterprises. Assistance may include equipment, tools, machinery, infrastructure; services like irrigation, water and electricity; technical assistance; connection to experts and mentor farmers; and help to find low-cost or free land to lease or purchase. The SAGE Farm InCUBEator is two transportable shipping containers, one of which is simple accommodation, the other a “farm shed” that contains all the gear to establish a temporary market garden on leased land. The farm shed will contain a small tractor with cultivation implements, hand tools, irrigation line, a small wash and packing station, the power unit for both containers, safe seed storage, trellis material, tarps and row covers, and a tight plan for the first year’s production.

#Community #Food #Weekly #Moruya #Paper

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