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Goulburn Valley Food Co-operative - Shutdown opens fresh produce ideas factsheet

​​​​​​​Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, April 2016

These case studies share examples of existing farmer collaboration​​

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Key points

  • Collaboration is at the heart of the Goulburn Valley Food Co-operative, formed in response to the 2012 closure of the Heinz factory.
  • The co-op aims to revive the importance of food production and bolster community resistance.
  • The 700 member co-op helps farmers explore potential opportunities across the supply chain.
  • The co-op model was chosen to reposition food as an important part of community life, not just a commodity, and provide hope.
  • The co-op promotes longterm cultural change including using idle resources such as commercial kitchens and packing facilities to add value to existing products.
  • For further information visit agriculture.gov.au/cooperatives

Goulburn Valley Food Co-operative’s creation was a spontaneous community response to the 2012 closure of the Heinz factory in Girgarre, Victoria.

Facing the loss of markets for local producers and 146 jobs, with devastating economic and social impacts, Goulburn Valley Food Co-operative (GVFC) has been bolstering community resilience ever since.

This not-for-profit, non-trading co-op has collaboration as its core value. Its mission is to revive the importance of food production through collective business approaches in food production, marketing, processing and distribution. Its former Chairman and current Public Officer, Les Cameron, says its advice and advocacy help farmers to explore potential opportunities across the supply chain.

The co-op’s 700 members include local producers, former Heinz employees and community supporters, whose $50 lifetime membership fee is donated to community causes. Its territory stretches over a 500-kilometre radius from Shepparton to Seymour, Echuca, Bright and Bendigo.

A self-described food activist co-op, GVFC is associated with three proprietary limited companies: Faire Ferments, which produces apple and pear ciders; Real Food Connect, which sells gourmet local food packs online; and the Australian Grown Food Company, which provides pro bono consultancy to aspiring local exporters.

As part of Australian Grown Food Company activities, GVFC members regularly contribute to discussions aimed at expanding markets for local producers, he says. These typically range from talks with Asian business groups about importing Goulburn Valley hampers to Indigenous producers planning to develop local products.

This not-for-profit, non-trading co-op has collaboration as its core value.

We don’t want to die wondering if we should have tried something else. That aspiration and optimism when bad times come is all
about the human spirit.

Real Food Connect links producers to the new economy through an alternative distribution model akin to Uber, using local transport in nimble ways. It has about 40 active local producers, who share an estimated annual turnover of $400 000, he says. Its producers’ individual respective turnovers range between $50 000 and $5 million.

Faire Ferments, a start-up inspired by the GVFC, began making cider to support local orchardists who would otherwise have had to uproot their fruit trees. Its products are adding value to the Goulburn Valley supply chain.

The diverse expertise of the co-op’s board and executive team demonstrates that GVFC is more than a ‘feel good’ endeavour, Les says. Its advisory committee includes a former chief CFO for Ericsson and an expert in supply chain management.

Les says, ‘We chose the co-operation model over competition because we want a model that repositions food as a very important part of community life rather than just a commodity.’

He says it will involve long-term cultural change, including more efficient use of idle resources in the region, such as commercial kitchens and packing facilities that could be used to create ‘virtual factories’, for example, by producers who want to add value by developing and processing their products.

Les says GVFC continues to provide hope—an essential ‘commodity’ for small producers and farmers. ‘We don’t want to die wondering if we should have tried something else. That aspiration and optimism when bad times come is all about the human spirit.’

These case studies were compiled by RIRDC to share examples of existing farmer collaboration.