No matter how you shuffle the deck, each farming season will bring with it a fresh batch of challenges, and it’s less about figuring it all out than it is about developing resilience, learning to ride the waves, find peace in chaos and then sharing this learning to build a strong community support network. It is with all this in mind that Southern Harvest Association wants to get some serious collaboration happening between our producer members. Why make farming harder than it needs to be? Why reinvent wheels when we can cross-pollinate, innoculate, and develop mycorrhizal associations? Pick your ecological metaphor, but we reckon what’s good for the farm is also good for the farmer.

Farming for a living sure isn’t for the feint hearted, it can be a real challenge working with nature. There’s not getting enough rain, or getting too much rain, then there’s frost, hail, heat waves, damaging winds, insects, birds and animals to contend with, as well as subtle, un-pin-downable clusterfunks of all of the above. As if that weren’t enough there’s learning how to run a business, which many farmers learn on the fly, branding, pricing, budgets, wages, and on it goes.

Farming can also be isolating. There’s no office to go to, and often no co-workers. On a good day this can be bliss, on a bad day it can be extremely demoralising, stuck in your own head with no one to compare notes with. When you’re farming solo, sometimes surviving another day comes down to your ability to solve the latest out-of-the-blue head scratcher with whatever you have on hand (which, let’s face it, is probably some duct tape and three and a half bits of string).

The skills needed to run a farm are never ending, so you’re likely to wind up being a Jill of all trades and master of none. In a world that so values specialisation this can leave you wondering if you’re GOOD at anything at all.

Many of our producer members are first generation farmers. In most cases they are self taught and learnt all these hard lessons from scratch. Bookshelves lined with new farming books from the likes of Curtis Stone, Ben Hartman, J M Fortier, Eliot Coleman and Joel Salatin, can seem like a silver bullet, and it’s easy to get lulled into thinking that there is a formula for farming success. These folks may well be talented farmers and entrepreneurs with lots to offer, and looking at someone else’s system can be useful however, at the end of the day your slugs may be more savage, your children more unruly, your market more surly or your seeds less accessible. This is why learning your own context is key.

To dip our toes into the big dream of collaboration Southern Harvest decided it would be a great to have regular producer meet ups. The idea was to, provide an opportunity to see each others setups, socialise with peers, share scrumptious food and create a space for collaborative thinking and action.

Our first producer meet up was held on Sunday 2nd of May for our group of producers contributing to the Multi-farm Produce Box Scheme. Our generous hosts were Hazel and Michael of Parker’s Patch in Burra NSW. It was a deliciously sunny day attended by folks from about nine local farms, all diverse small scale fruit and veg producers.

To begin the gathering Hazel took us on a fascinating tour of Parker’s Patch. It was amazing to gain a visual of how Hazel’s growing techniques are evolving as she expands the farm, as well as seeing great examples of animals being used for site preparation and compost building. We then shared a pot luck lunch on the lawn, with lovingly grown and prepared foods, before getting down to having a relatively informal chat about how we might better work together under the SHA umbrella.

We considered and brainstormed how we might provide consistent and diverse products for the produce boxes. This can be a real challenge when each farm is so similar and yet so different and everyone has different costs of production. This included how we could do collaborative crop planning, to fill gaps in production, without competing with each other on the same products. We discussed the idea of eventually providing a wholesale offering for Canberra restaurants and retail grocers, cooperative buying of consumables and packaging and utilising excess crops and eliminating waste.

All in all it was a great start, we caught up with old friends and made new ones, exchanged tools tips, and war stories from the past seasons. We ate delicious food, saw a beautiful farm and watched our kids run wildly around with each other as we took our first tentative steps towards something that we hope will grow into valuable and workable tools for us all.

A huge thanks to Hazel and Michael for having us, and all the producers who could make it and contributed their knowledge and ideas to a bright collaborative future. The plan is to host more gatherings, hopefully on a regular basis. Please get in touch if you would be keen to get involved or host us at your farm. All producers are welcome and encouraged to attend.

If you would like information about Southern Harvest membership, please contact Alex at