Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op

Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC) is a collaboration of diverse organic farmers who lease land on a single farm in Harcourt and collectively market and sell their produce. They are passionate about learning their craft, feeding our community, and making direct and meaningful connections with their customers. Farming Together helped HOFC with their business model and business structure development including the development of lease agreements and the formation of their co-operative.

The Catalyst for Change

  • Katie and Hugh wanted to stay living on the farm with a succession plan of how to ‘gracefully exit’ when they could no longer physically work on the farm.
  • It was important for Katie and Hugh that the land stay productive and increase in productivity. They utilised 12 acres for 5 000 fruit trees but there was a lot of potential for the remaining acreage.

The Opportunities

  • Lease the land to young and or landless farmers.
  • Develop a number of opportunities to transition out of direct, on-land farming.
  • Create a multi-enterprise model as a co-op to facilitate the opportunity.
  • Develop a model to turn original nursery into a commercial business through a partnership.
  • Mentoring of experienced with less experienced farmers.
  • Online teaching business for organic fruit growing.

The Challenges

  • Working with different personalities and people.
  • The decision-making process.
  • Being challenged in unexpected and different ways.
  • Having fixed ideas about what should happen.
  • Thinking differently and challenging others to see your ideas.

Success Story

  • Five different enterprises are utilising the farm and are co-op members.
  • Purposefully only just profitable to remain solvent.
  • Income from three member types:
    • basic fee for all members,
    • trading fee for trading members,
    • a levy on enterprise income for trading members.
  • Other co-op income includes farm-tours with opportunities for other diversification and value-adding options.
  • Each enterprise pays a lease payment to the landowners, plus their water and power usage.
  • Collective expenses include book-keeping, organic certification and levy, organisation memberships, etc.

Future Looking

  • Prioritise relationships and authentic working together. “We didn’t say right we’re starting a co-op and this is what we’re going to do, we said we want to work together, how are we going to do that” (Hugh Finlay, 2020).
  • Be thorough. Keep watertight legal agreements – not just handshake agreements.
  • Let go of expectations and be open to exploring new ways of doing things. It is not an easy road, but extremely rewarding and worth the effort.

Find out more…

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