Early December saw SAGE host a study tour for the Sunraysia Food Movement, a food and farming group based in Mildura. The group included three members of the Mildura-based Burundi farming community. The attraction for making the 5-day return trek was to see examples of successful small scale farming, experience the diversity of the SAGE Farmers Market, and to look at the relevance of SAGE’s achievements in developing a local food system.
The leader of the group was Deborah Bogenhuber, whose group (Food Next Door Co-op) has been assisting the Burundi community with access to land and developing skills. “We found that our aims were very similar to SAGE and we wanted to understand how SAGE had achieved so much as a voluntary organisation,” said Deborah. “Mildura is a major food centre for both NSW and Victoria, and yet it is difficult for locals to source genuine local produce.”
Dr Olivia Dun, a researcher, currently working for the University of Melbourne and University of Wollongong, with a particular interest in sustainable agriculture, was also part of the study tour. She wanted to see how the whole system worked and also how the various SAGE initiatives such as commercial market gardening experience and the intern program had contributed. After the small farm site visits she remarked on the obvious commitment to regenerative practices as well as the apparent viability of these enterprises. “It is great to see the success of these farms when they are less than 2 hectares in size, no doubt due to the hard work of the farmers involved and the creation of the SAGE Farmers Market. That would usually equate to a ‘hobby farm’ in government terms, and yet here we have self employed families living a good life, improving the land, growing highly nutritious fresh food. It is a model that should be better known and understood.”
Joel Sindayigaya, leader of the Burundian farming group and President of the Twitezimbere Burundian Community was fascinated by the variety of foods on offer at the SAGE Farmers Market, and also the care that was taken to enrich the soil on the small farms. Declining soil fertility is also a problem in Burundi, despite the sometimes metres-deep top soils. The staple crops of bananas, cassava, sweet potato and beans are grown on an average landholding of 1/2 a hectare.
The exchange of information between the groups was very beneficial and it was interesting to learn that the problems faced in Mildura were not that different to our own. With a dynamic group of people who are willing to get their hands dirty, this project is a winner.