"Commuter farmers" could help horticulture

Vic farmer encourages young people to consider being "commuter farmers"

Horticulture
OUTSIDE: Velisha Farms, Werribee, Victoria is keen to attract "commuter farmers" - workers from the city who might want a change of pace with their work experience.

OUTSIDE: Velisha Farms, Werribee, Victoria is keen to attract "commuter farmers" - workers from the city who might want a change of pace with their work experience.

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Living in the city but working on the land - it could be the best of both worlds.

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A VICTORIAN vegetable grower reckons there's great potential for agriculture in the concept of "commuter farmers".

A commuter farmer is someone who lives within a major city but operates on farmland at the city fringes.

One advocate for the concept is Velisha Farms owner, Catherine Velisha.

Ms Velisha considers herself to be a commuter farmer, going from her car stacker parking in inner city Melbourne to tractors helping to grow cauliflower and broccoli on her farm at Werribee.

She said there are opportunities for city dwellers to be engaged with reputable and established agricultural businesses.

"These businesses have been around for 100 of years, they are secure, they are essential and for many city dwellers they are really accessible," Ms Velisha said.

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"People tend to forget the broad range of work on offer in horticulture. You've got sales, safety, bookkeeping, logistics, transport, engineering, management."

"And they are really well-paid jobs so instead of just thinking about marketing in a CBD office you can be marketing for an agriculture or horticulture business."

Recent survey results released by the Regional Australia Institute show one-in-five city residents are looking to move to the regions, with more than half wanting to make the jump within the next year.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the nation's capital cities had a net loss of 11,200 people between July and September last year.

But Ms Velisha said moving to a new location entirely may not be the case for those just wanting to get involved in primary production.

"It has been proven through COVID that they only thing that is necessity is eating, and healthcare of course, but even healthcare workers have to eat," she said.

"There is no more resilient industry than farming, it is never in doubt, it might change and evolve but it has to exist in some form."

A move maker

WESLEY Coleman-Bayley made the move from hospitality to horticulture before COVID hit, driven by the insecurity surrounding his shifts at a Melbourne café.

"I have always loved growing things and gardening and this is just that on steroids," Mr Coleman-Bayley said.

"There is a satisfaction in watching the products grow and evolve, at Butler Market Gardens we were growing roses but not we have switched over to herbs."

Mr Coleman-Bayley oversees the operations on two sites for Butlers and says the hour-plus commute from Spotswood to Lindhurst is a long one but that with a cup of coffee and the right tunes it can also provide some great headspace before he arrives at work.

Like Velisha Farms, Butler Market Gardens is keen on workers from the city and particularly young people straight out of school who might want a change of pace with their work experience.

Mr Coleman-Bayley says he loves the satisfaction of working on the land.

"The thing is I am a bit of a dag and I embarrass my wife in the supermarket when I see some basil on the shelves that has come from our farm," he said.

"I will go up to complete strangers and say 'I grew this.'"

Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside, says the peak body encourages those looking to start a new career or transition into an exciting and growing industry to consider working in the fresh produce industry.

"People who live in the city should not rule out a job in agriculture as there are plenty of farms in commuter distance and the roles that are needed are not limited to harvest workers," Mr Whiteside said.

"Farms also have a range of technical and skilled roles that cover a wide range of business areas, including engineering, mechanics, business development managers, marketing, product development and many other areas."

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