Is it your dream to create great local produce, but lack the land and know-how to get started? You’re in luck. Jay and Sharan Rivett of Pepo Farms (Australian Pumpkin Seed Company) are ready and waiting to give passionate young farmers-to-be a leg up into the industry.
“The idea is we would give them a year free rent, a mentor, an agronomist and equipment, which saves them hundreds of thousands of dollars as a startup farm,” Mr Rivett said.
Pepo Community Farms is a new venture for the Ovens company and all in the name of social enterprising – a bid to maximise financial, social and environmental well-being in the community.
The idea began with the Artisan Mill – the Rivett’s first social enterprise project. The oil mill has been in action for five years, is owned and run by Pepo Farms and currently works with 35 farmers.
“The community mill came about thanks to hazelnut growers in Tasmania who’d seen what we’d done with the pumpkin seeds and thought we could press hazelnut oil for them,” Mr Rivett said.
“We didn’t want to do it as a contract for making money, so we do it at cost to help them and add value to a traditional food system.
“In reality, when you look at countries people romanticise like Italy and Tuscany, they have these wonderful produce and oils and they come from a shared oil mill. We want to be able to promote that regionalism as a whole, not just pumpkin seed oil.”
Mr Rivett said while many people think social enterprises are a charity or, at the very least, not profitable, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Social enterprising is just a business that has social impact,” he said.
“I’d like to see our individual farmers that started from nothing have a diverse range of incomes coming from courses, tourism, direct to market restaurants and farm gate – to have a very secure income so they don’t have to go directly to a supermarket to sell their produce. Then they can impart their knowledge onto the next generation and hopefully inspire other regions to do the exact same model as what we do here.”
Having kicked off a year ago, Pepo Community Farms is already on the way to achieving their vision thanks to The Sunflower Project, a field of sunflowers directly across the road from Pepo Farms, better known to the locals as ‘the field of happiness.’
“The Sunflower Project was the very first project,” Mr Rivett said.
“It ended up to be a tourism mecca which we never expected. You wouldn’t believe how many people on Instagram have taking a selfie with a sunflower on their wish list. We had people travelling from five hours away just to see them. It’s on the major highway so it causes a few traffic jams occasionally, but it’s a beautiful site.
“More importantly, everyone driving past has started to learn why we were doing it. We’re doing it to teach everyone to grow sunflowers in their backyard to help the bees, to condition the soil and we were actually selling the fresh flowers to fundraise to pay for infrastructure for someone to have their first farm here through Pepo Community Farms.”
The community farm has already welcomed a team of two women looking to set up a vegetable cropping and flower farm, but Mr Rivett expects many more will come once the word gets out.
“We’d like to see at least 20 individual farms on that field working as a rotational and communal farm,” he said,
“It’s in its infancy but over the next couple of weeks we hope to start doing some marketing through social media and events.
“The sunflowers will create the subject matter and talking to people naturally does its own organic marketing. Hopefully that will inspire people to get in touch with us and say ‘hey – how can you help me become a farmer?’”
If you would like to get involved with Pepo Community Farms, call (03) 5752 1199 or make contact through Facebook or Instagram pages ‘Pepo Community Farms.’