2023 AGM president’s report from Cath Reilly
SAGE has had a great year.
Our organisation is in a robust financial position again, which is a great relief after the challenging years of bushfires and the pandemic.
We have 160 members and many, many, volunteers.
Our social events are booming, and our education program is building our community’s capacity and providing opportunities to connect and learn.
Our abundant SAGE Garden, the literal grass roots of SAGE is cared for with love and it continues to be the place we come together to connect and share and grow.
Our Farmers Market, connecting growers with eaters every Tuesday underpins the success of our local food system. Please encourage people to support the market’s amazing local growers or come along to be inspired about what a volunteer community group can achieve.
The SAGE Stepping Stone Farm journey continues to be extraordinary, unique and a model for communities all around Australia trying to develop their local food systems.
Our beautiful community food project better known as the Wednesday Group, feed and nourish people living with disadvantage with their thoughtfully presented weekly food boxes, and our monthly Food Share is a place to witness kindness and sharing of much more than just the produce.
Behind the scenes SAGE continues to improve its advocacy, administration, and governance. With the help of a disaster preparedness grant we received from the Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal, SAGE engaged a consultant to help us work towards being better prepared for the future, and to ensure that SAGE continues to exist no matter what’s thrown our way. This project is challenging, and the executive committee and sub committees have been asked to look inwards and analyse and question everything we do. The project will finish at the end of this year and I’m confident SAGE will come out of it as a more resilient and focussed organisation, better positioned to continue to support and grow our local food system and our food community.
And how is this extraordinary depth and breadth of work achieved? Because of you and all of the members, volunteers and supporters not here today. You are all amazing in every way.
But there’s one more thing we’re asking of you today. The SAGE community is fantastic and special, but we are small and to be honest, we don’t grow much year to year. We need more of you to share the SAGE story, sing it to the rooftops, tell anyone who’ll listen, and even those who don’t want to listen. Drag your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues along on our journey to grow a strong local food system. Share the newsletter, engage with our social media. There are so many, many ways to be part of SAGE journey. Let’s become enormous!!!!!
I’m stepping down from the President’s position today. It’s genuinely been a privilege and I am in awe and grateful for the generosity of spirit and the wealth of knowledge, skills and expertise that have enabled me to serve you as president.
2023 AGM treasurer’s report from Jan Maitland
Overall, SAGE returned a profit of almost $32,000 for the year. This is a large increase from the previous financial year when growers were impacted by the floods, decreasing their attendance at the Farmers Market. There was also an increase in SAGE activities with the decrease in COVID restrictions.
Therefore, factors influencing the increase in profit include:
The Farmers Market division returned a profit of $13,000 which is largely due to the waiver of Council stall fees from March 2022 until January 2023 and the lack of a market manager until December 2022. Although we now employ a market manager and pay Council stall fees, the Farmers Market still breaks even.
Catering, education, events and workshops jointly returned a profit of $24,000 which shows how valuable these enterprises are to both SAGE and the community. This helps to pay for SAGE expenses such as:
The cash held has increased from last year, largely due to the receipt of a $50,000 FRRR grant which was delivered to employ a consultant to disaster proof the operation of SAGE and its enterprises. This has commenced and is continuing.
Once again SAGE is in a comfortable position to move forward.
2023 AGM Stepping Stone Farm report from Mark Barraclough
We are regularly reminded of the uniqueness and sometimes crazy, crazy notion to develop a teaching farm off our own bat and none more so than when reviewing the report recently written by Churchill Fellowship recipient, Fiona Buinings who investigated ‘farm ventures that provide vocational pathways for aspiring food growers’. Fiona’s fellowship took her to Europe and Nth America. This is right in our space, there are no known similar operations in Australia probably because it’s one hell of a job to get it off the ground on a financially stable environment. Fiona’s report makes it very clear that the funding for a teaching farm is roughly equally shared between philanthropic and government support with the other third coming from produce sales.
Whilst it is true that Stepping Stone Farm has had some philanthropic donations, government funding and considerable investment support from SAGE in the set up stage, the vast majority of the funding for recurrent costs are via vegetable sales…an extraordinary achievement.
We have been in operation since November 2019, our first full season was spring 2021 when we turned over approximately $20k then in ’22 we did ~$40k and this year we will turn over close to $70k, teaching interns and Eco Crew, coaching volunteers and providing lots of healthy food for the community. Of important note, this year we turned a small profit.
I wish to acknowledge and thank the many volunteers who are pivotal in running the farm. I would also like to highlight and thank two special volunteers who have completed the training as interns. Shani Keane and Tanya Senior have been the backbone of the crew, stepping up in times of need and taking responsibility for keeping things on track. As you are no doubt aware they have started growing on some spare space at the farm and are now growing and selling beautiful produce at the market.
Recruiting interns has not lived up to expectations, there being a shift within the target demographic with full employment and rising cost of living post Covid, however, to date, we have graduated 4 interns to varying levels who are now growing in our community.
We will continue our recruitment drive for interns and will be adding a series of short master classes to introduce potential interns to the program.
We are indebted to Joyce Wilkie for her knowledge, commitment and generosity to the farm. Thank you to the Stepping Stone Farm Committee and in to the SAGE committee for their ongoing support.
2023 AGM Farmers Market report from Peter Heyward
Over 2022-23 the Farmers Market has continued to be a sustainable food hub for the region. While the amount of produce available has fluctuated depending on seasonal, climatic and other factors, regular producers, including our own Stepping Stone Farm, continue to offer fresh veggies, meat, dairy and other products for sale. Customers continue to come and enjoy the contact with producers and the many benefits of fresh, local food. New stallholders are always emerging but the Market would definitely benefit from some more volume and diversity so SAGE members should continue to encourage anyone they know who may be interested to get in touch.
A big change during the year was the closure of the e-market. While popular with clients and volunteers alike, usage had dwindled and it ultimately proved unsustainable for SAGE. If interest grows again and some back-of-house problems can be solved, it, or something like it, may yet reappear. What kept it going for as long as it did were the efforts of our volunteers packing, despatching and delivering boxes to clients. Our sincere thanks to all those who were involved.
With the closure of the emarket we replaced the packing area with a ‘SAGE space’ in the centre of the Market. This is providing an area for discussion and information sharing on SAGE’s mission of fostering and supporting a sustainable local food system, as well as a place to meet and rest tired legs. It reminds everyone that the Market continues to be a core activity for SAGE, helping producers of fresh, sustainably produced local food to offer it to the local community. To sustain this, we are looking at some new ways of attracting and retaining more customers and we look forward to spring markets with abundant produce to keep them happy and healthy.
Lastly I want to thank our Market Manager, Tanya Senior, for bringing her organization and IT skills to the role as well as quickly establishing rapport with existing stallholders and helping newcomers settle in.
2023 AGM farmers representative report from Eliza Cannon
I’m Eliza Cannon and I’m one-half of Borrowed Ground market garden. I farm on Walbunja Country just north of the river and I live on Brinja-Yuin Country in Moruya Heads. I was invited by SAGE to join the committee as a local farmer representative and I also sit on the National Committee of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance. Both of these positions grant me the privilege of advocating for both our local and the broader, national food system and the good people producing food in ethical, socially just and culturally appropriate ways. Within my role at AFSA, I sit as the Chair for the Farming on Other People’s Land working group which works at providing aspiring or existing farmers with alternative avenues to accessing land in this extremely difficult land tenure context we find ourselves in. This position has sparked a deep drive within me to build relationships with Yuin knowledge holders in the region to de-colonise our thinking around land management and how we can collectively produce food that is respectful to Country and community, acknowledging that as Second Nations people, any ground we cultivate is and always will be, Aboriginal land.
The last few years of growing have been challenging for obvious reasons. La Nina and the pandemic flipped everything on its head, not to mention the residual and still present traumas of the Black Summer (of which I can’t speak to as I arrived just after the devastation). However, things seem to be looking up and so far the season has been fruitful. To give you a timeline, post rains, we had to find the energy and motivation to kick back into gear full force and start planting for dryer months this January and that was a challenge to dive straight back into it with some latent caution and PTSD at the hands of La Nina. What we and other growers realise now, is that collaboration is key and we will be prioritising that. We can’t keep rolling that rock up the hill like Sisyphus on our own. With drought coming, we need to share our knowledge, our skills, our resources, distribution channels and passions to collectively feed the community.
With all that said, growing in drought for us will hopefully prove a little easier than in flood and we are really excited to see what we and other growers can produce in a full season of growing. We are entering our fourth season now and each one before has been brutally disturbed by rain, so we are keen to smash out this year and see what comes of it. We are so thankful for the support of our local community and for SAGE for forming a strong, local food foundation for us to be a part of. Thank you.
2023 AGM Education and Events report from Sandra Makdessi
It’s been a busy year, as we eased back into a reasonable program of education, events and activities after a few years of disruptions.
Since our last AGM we have:
Successfully held our 4 solstice events, raising over $4,000 for SAGE. These events continue to be very popular, bringing the community together, share our delicious pizzas, soups and food – all made with the wonderful local produce.
With our education program we kicked the growing season with our Backyard Veggie Gardening – a series of 4 workshops with Alison Walsh – a great response with 15 extremely keen locals wanting to start and grow their own veggies. These budding growers were supported throughout the summer growing season and were successful in growing an abundance of food.
This year we continued to develop our partnership with some amazing organisations. Together we’ve organised about 12 events as the SAGE Garden. These events allowed visitors to the garden to learn and understand SAGE mission to create and support a sustainable fair food economy for our community.
Each of these activities attracted between 20-100 people, some from out of the area. These included:
It’s been a busy year for us. These events are made possible with the support and commitment of a dedicated team of 12 volunteers. I’d like to thank them for their time, passion, and energy they bring to each and every event. Together, we are creating awareness and having fun while doing it.
What’s happening next
We are currently putting together an education program for the next year – we’ll be kicking off with a series of workshops on organic vegetable growing and farming starting mid-September, and save the date for our Spring Equinox on Sunday 8 October (we’ve postponed so it doesn’t clash with the wonderful River of Art event).
And then mid October, Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance will be holding a book launch for their new publication - Eating Democracy event and their annual convergence. Stay tuned for more details.
2023 AGM community food report from Alda Rudzis
The Wednesday group is now approaching its fourth year of caring for the raised bed section of the SAGE garden. There are now 12 active members of the group.
We meet every week to weed, plant, water and harvest. This produce is then sorted and distributed to our main local welfare groups. At the moment we donate to the Moruya Women’s Refuge, the South Coast Community kitchen and the local Youth Refuge.
Once a month we also volunteer at Stepping Stone Farm where we help to plant seed trays. Some of these seedlings are eventually planted out in the SAGE beds.
The Wednesday group always welcomes new volunteers. It is a wonderful way to meet with other community members, share gardening and cooking knowledge, and provide a much needed and gratefully accepted service to our community.
2023 AGM food share report from Alda Rudzis
Foodshare meets on the third Saturday of the month at SAGE garden to swap and share their garden excess. As well as fruit and vegetables, seeds, cuttings, preserves and jams are popular items to share.
The group also shares anything that is food or garden related. This year we have shared cookbooks, compost worms, jars and a preserving kit.
There is always coffee and cake and an opportunity to mingle, chat and share expertise.
Foodshare is an excellent way to meet local members of the community with shared interests.
If you are new to the area it is also an excellent way to investigate what produce grows well in the area.
2023 AGM SAGE Garden report from Stuart Whitelaw (on behalf of Adrian Cram and Wendy Jones)
It has been over 15 years since we first walked onto this site and found a paddock full of head high weeds. This garden has been the heart and centre of most of our activities ever since, and it has been a huge part of the growth of SAGE. We are lucky to have inherited some of the best soil in the country which has allowed us the grow good food and to demonstrate the importance of a local food system.
It needs a lot of work to keep it this way, and our monthly working bees are an important part of the picture, along with the people on the mowing roster who turn up to wrangle the kikuyu every couple of weeks (more often in summer). We owe huge thanks to Adrian Cram and Wendy Jones who have organised the working bees and generally been at the pointy end of most garden activities.
A huge thank you must also go to Pats as the ‘grower in chief’ for the past couple of years who does so much of the day to day maintenance and cleaning as well as demonstrating her skills in growing fantastic vegetables. This coming year she will share both the garden and other duties with Belinda who we welcome on board.
This year we have added wonderful new compost bins thanks to a Combined Clubs grant and the design and construction skills of Adrian Cram. They will make composting easier for the Wednesday Group and provide much needed organic matter for the raised beds. We also built a cover for the blueberries from donated and scavenged materials.
The allotments have been generally much better cared for this year and are providing food for several families. Some new citrus trees have replaced the prunus trees which had to be removed because of ongoing fruit fly issues.
The strip of land between the garden and the river continues to be a major problem harbouring rabbits and invasive weeds like Cape Ivy. It is something we hope to tackle this coming year.
Also on the agenda for this year are some ideas sessions to look at how we can improve the infrastructure for events and education, such as better wind proofing and possible extra under cover areas for dinners. Making the garden more accessible with better pathways and better wet weather access is also on the list.
Creating a garden discovery trail for school children and improving signage helping visitors to understand what the garden is all about are other possibilities.
If you would like to be a part of this project come and talk with us, we need ideas as well as dirty boots.
Shani Keane, a local grower from Left Field Farm and Stepping Stone Farm, and a regular seller at the SAGE Farmers Market, attended this year’s Deep Winter Agrarian Gathering.
Shani kindly provided an interesting report for SAGE readers, including the Deep Winter Statement which was developed following consultation with the gathering.