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Building communities and sustainable local economies through food

Food Next Door team members Food Next Door team members

Food Next Door – a community co-operative in Mildura, north-west Victoria – matches under-utilised farmland with landless farmers to support small-scale regenerative farming, growing diverse crops and engaging people from diverse backgrounds to supply food to local households. [1] This is a pressing need in Mildura for several reasons.

First, Mildura is one of Australia’s most ethnically diverse rural communities due to its legacy of European post-war migration from Italy, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Ireland and England, and its more recent history as a declared Refugee Welcome Zone. Second, this ethnic diversity has created tremendous horticultural and agricultural expertise within the community, but many new migrants struggle to access land and put their agricultural skills to practice due to the high costs of land and water. [2] With few pathways to support new migrants into farming, migrants can experience difficulties with finding suitable employment and integrating with their new community while maintaining connections with their own culture. [3]

These problems cut across multiple traditionally siloed sectors: humanitarian affairs, immigration and settlement services, agriculture, food production and distribution, community development and planning, and education. Food Next Door, with support from Sunraysia Produce, has been tackling these challenges by partnering with Burundian migrant farmers to grow maize crops on a community garden plot in Mildura (aired on an episode of ABC’s Landline [4]). Food Next Door aspires to expand the community garden concept and establish a Community Demonstration Farm that will improve the wellbeing of more migrants and the local community, build stronger local food networks, and support economic growth in the region.

Food Next Door illustration Food Next Door illustration

Erin Smith and Tim Wildermuth, from Advisian’s Business Case Team, provided strategic advice to Food Next Door to prepare a Business Case for investment in the Community Demonstration Farm that met the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance’s requirements.

Food Next Door’s Executive Officer Deb Bogenhuber and Research Consultant Olivia Dun said:

"We could not have written the business case without Erin and Tim’s fantastic professional, strategic and prompt advice. They de-mystified the entire business case process, guiding us through complex components in a helpful, clear and succinct way that allowed us to progress and deliver the business case within a very short timeframe. There were moments when we were really stuck with how to progress with particular parts of our business case and after hours mulling back and forth over problems amongst ourselves, we would phone Erin who would help us within a few minutes to cut through to the crux of the issue and magically resolve our quandary. Moreover, Erin and Tim really understood the nature of Food Next Door’s goals and showed us how the Investment Logic Map and Benefit Management Plan could become useful tools to guide not only the writing of the business case, but Food Next Door’s long-term planning and strategy beyond the life of the government’s initial investment."

Drawing on Erin and Olivia’s common academic backgrounds in geography proved to be vital for capturing the cross-sectoral nature of the underlying problems critical to communicating a compelling case for investment. The Victorian Government has committed $600,000 over three years to support the establishment of the Community Demonstration Farm, including:

  • acquiring access to appropriate farm land either through leasehold or landshare arrangements

  • engaging new migrant groups beyond the Burundian community

  • providing training and capacity building in regenerative farming practice

  • creating new distribution channels for locally produced food

Advisian wishes Food Next Door all the best as it realises its vision of building community cohesion and supporting new migrants through growing food.


[1] http://www.foodnextdoor.coop/

[2] Klocker, N., Head, L., Dun, O., Spaven, T. (2018) ‘Experimenting with agricultural diversity: Migrant knowledge as a resource for climate change adaptation’, Journal of Rural Studies, 57(January): 13–24.

[3] Dun, O, Bogenhuber, D., Head, L., Kadahari, J., Klocker, N., Niyera, J. and Sindayigaya, J. (2018) ‘Bringing together landless farmers and unused farmland: the Sunraysia Burundian Garden and Food Next Door initiative’ In: Rose, N and Gaynor, A (Eds) Reclaiming the Urban Commons: The past, present and future of food growing in Australian towns and cities. UWA Publishing, Crawley.

[4] Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2017, 8 April) ‘Out of Africa: The community project involving food and farming bringing new migrants together’, ABC Landline. Viewed 28 January 2019: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/landline/old-site/content/2017/s4650651.htm.

We could not have written the business case without Erin and Tim’s fantastic professional, strategic and prompt advice. They de-mystified the entire business case process... in a helpful, clear and succinct way that allowed us to progress and deliver the business case within a very short timeframe.

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