The Red Gum Food Group

A couple of weeks ago we had one of those weekends that just make you feel good.

On 20/21 September the Red Gum Food Group (RGFG) hosted our local federal MP Sussan Ley for a special dinner cooked by 2013 MasterChef winner Emma Dean. It was the most fabulous night, a real credit to our volunteers and to the amazing produce from our area. To me, this was a really great example of how awesome our food group and our region is.

The Red Gum Food Group (RGFG) was formed in 2011 when a group of us got together for a Sunday lunch to talk about what we could do to develop our region’s food culture and build the recognition of it as a ‘food destination’. We live in a highly productive area with a diverse range of agricultural production and we wanted to promote this and build on it.

Over the past three years the RGFG has been working hard to develop a sustainable economy for our region around food. This year saw Loz and Lach Mathers of Bundarra Berkshires host their inaugural Hogfest event coinciding with our annual RGFG Q&A night, the farmers’ market has been gaining momentum, and our individual producers have been going from strength to strength.

There were a couple of major drivers for us setting up the RGFG.

The first part was that we wanted local people to appreciate, and be able to easily enjoy, what was grown locally. We wanted local farmers to be respected for their amazing produce and regain a sense of pride in what they do by reconnecting them with the consumer.

Before Tim and I moved back to the farm, our avocados could not be bought locally anywhere except the butcher shop. The guy who transported our avocados to Melbourne also used to do the fruit and veg buying for the local supermarkets. He would take our avocados to Melbourne, drop them off then go to another agent and buy avocados and bring them back up here. The same thing would happen with the oranges. We grow a lot of oranges around here and at one point locals could even sell their oranges while the local supermarkets were selling Californian ones!!!

The second key driver for the establishment of the RGFG was that we saw an opportunity to promote our area as a tourist destination based around food. This was really to link in with and build on the work done by the Backroads Trail team. We looked to areas like Daylesford and Orange and thought, “We can do that, too”. We are in the heart of the Murray Darling Basin, the food bowl of Australia, we produce all this wonderful food and there’s a real opportunity to promote it.

So the farmers’ market was established and we set up the incorporated Red Gum Food Group.

Over the past 3 years, we’ve held events and workshops and organised events like the ‘World’s Longest Lunch’ on the verandah of the Koondrook Pub. In three years, as a group of volunteers we’ve achieved a great deal and it’s been a fantastic community collective to be part of.

The work of the RGFG is really important, as agriculture is at the centre of our communities. The group is a vehicle for reconnecting with urban areas so that we can promote agriculture and it’s importance. It’s almost like it’s putting the fun back in to farming. The hope is that this will encourage more young people to once again see farming as a viable and exciting career and lifestyle option.

Next on the agenda for the RGFG is the “Producers’ Picnic” on March 28 next year. This is a really great event that highlights our local produce. It’s a picnic-style event right on the banks of the Murray with a local music act, the Kurlew Brothers. There’s a selection of food stalls from our local producers and beer and wine from Restdown Wines. The first one in 2012 was a huge success and we’re sure this one will be even better!

The Red Gum Food Group is a community organisation that is all about improving the quality of life for our community and promoting our region. I can’t wait to see what happens in our area over the next five to ten years, there are so many good things happening and so many positive and inspiring people getting around.