Working with a Farmlette
One of the more positive side-effects of the current troubled times is that the volunteer ethos is undergoing something of a renaissance. More than ever, people are seeing the value of community engagement and participation – not just for personal benefit, but for the broader society as well.
One emerging volunteer organisation is making waves in the Macedon Ranges region – and it is the dawn of the Farmlette! The Farmlette doesn’t just preach to the already converted; they actively engage local youth to participate in the conversion of lawn to crop – proving that positive social change can happen!
A farmlette is a prior lawn that is converted into a food-producing plot at least 500 square feet in size, consisting of row crops grown directly in the ground. Farmlettes are home to a wide variety of veggies, but the main crops grown are an assortment of baby greens, from Siberian Kale to Bibb lettuce, which comprise the Fleet Green salad mixes. Wherever there is grass, sun and water, be it residential or commercial yards, there is a future farmlette!
We recently spoke to Paul Kooperman, mover and shaker of the Farmlette movement and he was good enough to share his thoughts with us.
How did you create the Farmlette concept?
The Farmlette project was created as a perfect term program for The Field Trip, a youth movement empowering young people aged 9-24 to find and pursue their passion, peers and path. The Field Trip is all about social change, empowering kids to lead their communities, set positive examples, take initiative and lead positive community projects. Seeing a few links online to activists, young people and community-minded souls turning people’s front and back yards into mini-farms, growing edible produce, we thought the idea very much suited the style of The Field Trip, what we could achieve over a term (or two) and was very much in sync with what happens in our local area, the Macedon Ranges. We thought the idea would resonate with the local community and there would be individuals and organisations we could work with to trial a Farmlette as an example to others as to what could be achieved ‘in your own backyard’. This has proven to the be the case and there is now a lot of support for the project.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle in rolling out the Farmlette programme?
The biggest obstacle we face is the challenge to create and see visible transformation in a short time. This is crucial because we hope seeing something tangible as a result of our work will encourage the idea to spiral and grow. We want to see some visible significant change and growth in about 12 weeks, so we have to pick the right seeds or seedlings, hope for the right amount of sun and water and do exactly the right preparation in order for things to grow. This visible growth, if it happens, will inspire the kids who are creating it, inspire the owners of the house and the community watching our process. It will motivate others to do more. No change or growth will mean the project is likely to die and end at the end of 12 weeks, which would be a shame for everyone involved.
How much experience do you find that partipants previously have with growing their own food?
The people involved who are going to build the Farmlette do not have much experience at all. That’s the challenge but also what’s inspiring us to try – because we don’t know yet that it’s too hard or that we shouldn’t try. The Field Trip members, young people aged 9-24, will be our team of gardeners and drivers of the project. They will dedicate time on a weekly basis to build the farm and do what needs to be done to see it succeed. They have no experience in gardening or farming but will be mentored by someone with experience. In this case, Chris Hindson, from the Raw Food Store is our mentor Farmer who will guide the kids and process in creating the farm.
We’re also working with the owners of the property, Peter McGellin and Narelle McGellin Williams, who have experience creating their own beautiful garden and are keen to help and support the Farmlette project to make it work for their property.
Do you see access to fresh food as an issue in your area?
Access to fresh food in our area is a strength of our community. The Macedon Ranges is blessed with weekly Farmers Markets and high quality fresh food at reasonable prices. This is partly why we chose this area to build the Farmlette, because people are familiar with the idea, want and care about fresh produce and are supportive and enthusiastic for more. We are preaching to the converted and so the support is abundant.
Where do you see the Farmlette project in five years time?
In five years time, we would like to see the Farmlette project replicated in many houses, across the Macedon Ranges and other areas, suburbs, towns around Melbourne, Victoria and Australia. We would like to set an example for others that it’s doable, achievable and provides a great opportunity to eat better and create and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We want to see others take on similar projects either with our help or with the help of such organisations like The Raw Food Store or Permablitz. It’s a fantastic thing for homeowners, community and anyone into healthy living.