First-time farmer Joel Orchard builds support network to help those just starting out

Getting into farming as a young person can be tough.

Land is scarce and expensive, and farms are often passed down through the family, making it difficult for novices to get into farming.

Farming dreams without farming experience can be hard to achieve, as Joel Orchard knows.

After years of working in the corporate sector, Mr Orchard wanted to farm and moved to Northern Rivers in New South Wales, but found he needed more than the will and motivation to succeed in the industry.

Joel Orchard started Young Farmers Connect to provide a community of support for first generation farmers.(ABC landline)

Learning Center for New Farmers

In 2014, Joel decided to start a non-profit organization called Young Farmers Connect, initially based in his area.

The network supported new, emerging and young farmers, targeting the small-scale agriculture sector.

Young Farmers Connect has since grown into a national organization, providing resources, mentorship and a supportive community.

Photo of a group of people talking.
Young Farmers Connect has an official membership model, but the field days are paid events open to everyone.(ABC landline)

“And locally, we just created a network of people coming into the industry and looked at how we could support each other. Gradually we discovered that there were actually loads of young people doing the same So, yeah, a peer support network was a really natural fit.”

Tara Luca and Alex O’Reilly are two such farmers.

Together with Alex’s sister, Tess, they grow certified organic tea trees and cut flowers.

Starting two farming businesses was a lofty goal, but after discovering Young Farmers Connect on social media, they found help and support that helped them succeed.

Photo of a man and a woman.
Both Alex and Tara come from non-agricultural backgrounds, but that didn’t stop them from wanting to give it a shot.(ABC Landline: Halina Baczkowski)

For the couple, an insight into the business and commerce of agriculture was eye-opening.

“It can be really inspirational, talking about adding value and not just adding value, but just how to make your product financially viable,” said Tara Luca.

But for Ms. Luca, supporting a community is high on the list of services offered by Young Farmers Connect.

The nonprofit has a membership model, but at this point anyone can access information on its social media platforms.

Sharing agricultural knowledge

In addition to online support, Young Farmers Connect organizes paid field days organized across the country by local chapters.

Kate Keating is a Section Coordinator in South East Queensland and on a cold July day she hosted an event in Queensland’s Scenic Rim.

Photo of a woman standing in front of a sign that says 'Young Farmers Connect'
Kate Keating has been coordinating the Young Farmers Connect chapter for South East Queensland for 18 months.(ABC Landline: Halina Baczkowski)

Kate explains that these days are so successful because they give people the opportunity to meet like-minded farmers who are getting results.

“We have a very strong community of farmers and producers, a really passionate, very supportive and welcoming group of people. My job is very simple, really. I’m here to provide a platform to help and support them to through learning opportunities, peer mentorship and that sort of thing,” she said.

Marcos ‘Curly’ Malaxetxebarria, a former roofer turned farmer and inventor, is hosting the field day. He became involved with Young Farmers Connect in its early days when Mr. Orchard reached out.

“Joel was very supportive of us when we started developing machines and starting our own farm. He took a lot of initiative to nurture this culture of farmers doing their job,” Curly said.

The desire to help, support and pass on knowledge pays off, with Curly wanting to do the same.

Image of a smiling man.
Curly says sharing his knowledge is of utmost importance to him and says it’s about giving back.(ABC Landline: Halina Baczkowski)

Mr. Orchard also advocates on behalf of farmers at the government level, providing advice and research on the protection and preservation of farmland.

“There is a real pressure on land that is being bought up and developed, especially around cities and urban peripheries. Some of this agricultural land is really important for our food security and access to local food. So some forms of protection around that are really important,” he said.

Working primarily with small-scale farmers, Mr. Orchard believes this type of farming is difficult to achieve.

“For a lot of young people, they are starting families, on top of that we have a rent crisis and everything else too, there is a complexity of the problems.

“We’re advocating for more resources and more support for industry, but also just for recognition of the small-scale farming sector and the huge benefits it brings to Australia’s food security.

“If we can involve more young people in the industry, the benefits to the community will be multiplied.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s landline at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, or on ABC View.

Donald E. Patel