The criteria were simple: producers had to be collaborative, delightful, use regenerative farming methods and, of course, have great-tasting produce! With this, Sally Ruljancich and Amelia Bright went about recruiting farmers for the Prom Coast Food Collective – an innovative enterprise enabling small-scale producers in South Gippsland to easily sell directly to customers.
Co-founders Sally and Amelia are small-scale, regenerative farmers from the region. Sally and her husband Colin run Colin and Sally’s Organic Lamb and Beef, and Amelia and her husband Dan produce “hogs and logs” on Amber Creek Farm and Sawmill.
Ideas began circulating in March 2017 when the pair started talking with Bronwyn Davis, a local interested in improving access to the region’s produce.
“The idea that started the Collective was to bring the best local food to the most people, in the easiest way,” Bright says.
Given the pocket of small-scale producers in the region, all farming with a similar ethos and looking for new ways to sell, the women formulated an idea for a producer-led Collective. They believed this could provide farmers with the financial security and certainty missing from other retail channels, and better connect customers with their food and the farmers who had grown it.
Bright’s extensive local network and Ruljancich’s business-savvy social-media skills helped the pair assemble producers, set up online infrastructure and get word out about the Collective – all in time for their first ‘Convergence day’ only a month later.
The Collective’s online store has slightly different produce each month, depending on what the group’s 24 producers have in season. Customers place a single online order and payment in the first two weeks of the month, and collect their order on the third Sunday of that month at the Blue Tree Honey Farm, in Dumbalk. While this Convergence day may look like a regular farmers’ market, no money changes hands on the day, which frees everyone up for a relaxed afternoon.
“People aren’t simply grabbing their bags and going,” Bright explains. “They are making connections, letting the kids run about, sharing recipes, bringing friends along to experience the afternoon, learning about each producer’s farming techniques, collaborating with each other and then heading inside to the tea rooms for a cuppa.”
The online ordering, run through the Open Food Network’s free-to-use software, ensures convenience for both customer and producer. The software allows producers to easily control their own stock and helps customers shop from the Collective’s producers in one place.
Each producer was selected to complement, rather than compete against one another. Together, they sell produce ranging from beef and poultry, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, all the way through to natural beauty products.
In under a year, the Prom Coast Food Collective has grown in strength, with customer numbers and sales steadily increasing.
Nicole Holton and her son are regulars, driving from Traralgon most months for the Convergence.
“The collective fits all the things I hold dear,” Holton explains, helping her support local farmers, buy organic and educate her son on where his food comes from.
With customers returning each month and other farmers in Australia keen to develop similar initiatives, it is exciting to see the Collective fostering strong community and local, ethical farming.
Setting up a similar collective
Bright and Ruljancich would love to see more initiatives like theirs popping up in Australia. For them, the keys to success have been:
- Finding an online portal. The pair suggest Open Food Network’s free and easy-to-use platform.
- Engaging on social media. Sally says that Instagram and Facebook have helped reach their customers and tell the story of their Collective.
- Using their farms’ brand and customer base. Bright says this helped establish early mailing lists and get the word out. Working with great people! Bright stresses the importance of collaborating with good company.
First published: March 2018