This year, Baw Baw Food Hub celebrates five years of connecting the Gippsland community with the farmers who grow their food.
The Hub is a response to the current food system that is failing the health and wellbeing of its people and planet. It exists to promote, support and enable a thriving local food economy, based on ecological farming and healthy eating.
A community of dedicated weekly subscribers, food growers and workers underpin its growth. They share a vision of establishing a better way to produce, value and consume food through a ‘solidarity economy’.
While the community gains access to a superior quality produce, their purchases create a stable marketplace, which enables farmers to grow food in an ecological way. Neither customer nor farmer can be without the other.
The Hub offers a unique touch not many stores can claim: the name, and sometimes a warm “hello” from the real-life producer who provided the shop’s certified organic products. Let Graeme provide your seafood, Lynton your citrus, or Toby, freshly laid eggs produced just 10 minutes down the road. This is the place where most of the food doesn’t need to travel farther than the region, where it’s practical, ecological and as local as possible.
This is the place that welcomes BYO packaging — be it jar, tub or reusable bag. Stock up on your oats and crackers, rice and oil, or maybe dried fruit and nuts. And when it comes to milk? There’s Butterfly Factory’s delicious dairy, from just over in Poowong, in glass jars and bottles that can be returned for reuse.
Customers unwilling to risk missing out on their favourites can pre-order online through the Hub’s shop on the Open Food Network, and arrive in-store to a packed box, ready and waiting.
Everything for your weekly shop, available for pick-up or delivery, from the producer who grew and nurtured them. It’s from this simple sentiment — connecting farmer to community — that the Hub originally began.
The Hub grew from the combined produce of two small organic farms, who traded together as Baw Baw Organics. The first 20 vegie boxes were packed in 2014, when locals asked to be able to access the same fresh organic produce that Baw Baw Organics sold at Melbourne Farmers’ Markets each Saturday.
It started small — picking, then packing boxes on the farm, followed by a 3pm drop-off/pick-up at a car park in central Warragul. Staples like lettuce, tomato and cucumber were picked in the morning, and on local dinner tables that same night. People loved it, and word spread quickly.
Within a few months, Baw Baw Organics found a local packing space, and organic milk, bread, fruit and eggs joined the weekly offerings, extending the reach and support for even more farmers.
From the start, the highest volume of vegetables has been supplied by two outstanding growers — Cafresco Organics and Peninsula Fresh Organics. Now, dozens of other growers and food makers help fill seasonal gaps, supplying hundreds of products all year round. Although this allows continuous supply, the long-term goal remains:increase the volume and variety of local, organic produce, and steadily build a thriving local food economy.
The Hub grew, and has now moved to a bigger warehouse, welcoming a broader range of produce, becoming a central point to an ever-expanding community of farmers and food makers.
There is now a children’s area, coolroom and community kitchen, and the Hub hosts workshops, film nights and farmer meetings. Empowering the community is vital to the Hub’s overall cause, as they aim to teach the community about food production and food justice, and host cooking and gardening classes.
All decisions and initiatives stem back to the Hub’s two main principles: support ecological farming practices and make produce accessible.
Globally, industrial agriculture results in degradation of soils, water supplies and biodiversity. It produces greenhouse gas emissions, causes animal suffering and relies on the widespread exploitation of workers, including farmers.
The current industrialised food system is failing. People struggle to access nourishing produce, with readily available, affordable, low-value, processed food becoming increasingly responsible for disease.
The Hub is a local expression of the resistance and change gaining momentum around the world. Communities are taking control of their food supply, and working together to encourage positive transformation.
But what makes the Hub any different to the average grocer, or organic market?
First is the support for farmers who explicitly focus on ecological practices. All Hub farmers adopt organic or biodynamic farming practices, and 95% of the produce available is certified organic.
These farmers — thanks to the economic stability enabled by community support — can lead the way in innovative farming practices. There is ecological consideration from start to end.
Many use compost and green manures (crops grown specifically to nourish soil), and maintain crop health, fertility and high-levels of biodiversity, encouraging natural predators to help control pests. No chemicals required.
Their practices are skillful, adaptive and based on ongoing experimentation, and an intent to gain an even deeper understanding of their farms and the surrounding ecology.
And so, it’s Hub policy to pay these growers a price that values their important work, their significant innovations, their environmental stewardship and the good food they bring to our community. A fair trade off for significant input.
This leads into the second principle — that healthy and clean food should be accessible to all.
Paying farmers well while keeping prices affordable is a challenging business proposition, so the Hub operates as a not-for-profit. It’s a different way to source the weekly household shop, but more and more people embrace and praise the difference, and are happy to support it.
That’s an important factor in the Hub’s success — being able to operate within a community of people who are excited by these principles.
The biggest sign of support is their purchasing power, from the 200 households subscribed to the model, to the person who walks in off the street. Margins are kept as low as feasibly possible and the Hub offers a ‘volunteer for produce’ option for those who need it. It’s the ‘Hubsters’ who empower the model.
Deepening the connection with the community starts with the people, but it gains momentum when businesses jump on board. Like-minded cafes and restaurants, like Hogget Kitchen, honour their strong emphasis on local and seasonal eating by sourcing their produce from the Hub. Chef Trevor Perkins and his team also hosts the annual ‘Growers’ Dinner’, at which the Hub farmers and community share a meal and celebrate another happy year of working together.
The relationship is mutually supportive, and fundamental in what represents a ‘solidarity economy’. Rather than cheap food and profits to shareholders, exchanges support the local economy and are based on shared values, ecological farming, and the ethical treatment of animals and the community. Direct relationships with growers, most of whom personally deliver to the Hub, means packaging like spud bags or broccoli boxes can be returned and reused, reducing waste and packaging.
Hubsters value the produce, but even more so the intrinsic connection between food, community and self. Connections are made, stories are shared and a sense of belonging permeates from soil to table.
The Hub continues to increase the market for farmers and broaden access for shoppers. Recent initiatives include opening up to small batch processors and encouraging new, backyard gardeners to join the Hub to increase supply. With more products available, the Hub are able to serve more locals, whether through subscriptions or a weekly shop.
The Baw Baw Food Hub is flexible and adaptive, responding to customer preferences and providing alternative ways to subscribe, earn discounts or support the Hub’s other activities.
From a constantly growing range of produce and bulk buy dry goods, to extended opening hours, the Hub offers convenience — without costing the environment.
The growth is contagious. Their newly registered commercial kitchen is now available to hire, and fosters learning, development and new food enterprises.
For those keen to hear more, the weekly newsletter continues to provide insights into farming and discussions of sustainability and health issues, as well as recipes and pictures celebrating food and farming in Gippsland.
It’s often at significant milestones that we pause for a moment to reflect.
In these five years, the Baw Baw Food Hub has established a system and an unusual, but viable, model that pays farmers well and makes healthy produce accessible for all. It has been created by and for a community committed to ecological, value-led practices being used to build a new economy. And it’s because of the community that it will continue on.
We can’t know what innovations and local initiatives the Hub will help foster over the next five years, but there are some exciting possibilities and big dreams, and the Hub team welcomes engagement in a number of ways, inviting people to:
“Come and shop at the Hub, sign up to our newsletter to connect with the region’s food, share the produce you grow with the community, sell your farm’s produce, use the community kitchen to develop new products, or come to one of our events. Come and be a part of the next five years of creating our local food economy.”
Visit the Hub at 4/133 North Road, Warragul (Behind the Pet Emporium)