Sam Marwood is always creating content. Videos, blogs, photos, podcasts…you name it. When, at the Start Up Meet Up in May (a virtual event organised by a number of Bendigo organisations to support the Start Up community), Sam describes posting five times a day across four social media platforms (and having a presence on seven), the assembled (virtual) crowd is visibly shocked. How does he come up with enough ideas? Where does he find the time? Recently Sam has been able to employ a social media guru to help with all the posting, but for many years it was just him, sharing his journey and patiently building an online community.
This, Sam explains, is the key to success for any business – with social media a free, transformational tool available to anyone with a phone and an internet connection (he describes this moment as the best time in history to be alive, a welcome note of positivity in a difficult time) – a way to show the world who you are and what you do, a way to build trust. In particular, Sam’s passion is for supporting young farmers to achieve their dreams of owning and running their own farms – an aspiration seemingly out of reach for so many. So Sam is always making videos and sharing his story with the world, inspiring young farmers to do likewise, to keep pursuing their dreams and thinking outside the box.
That’s how Cultivate Farms was born – Sam and his friends Tim and Tegan Hicks saw a problem and set about coming up with a solution, creating a social enterprise and a model of farm finance which sees retiring farmers matched with aspiring farmers and investors to own and operate a farm together.
Australian Farmers are getting older – with an average age of 56 – and many do not have the option of passing their farms on to a younger generation. At the same time, many young families would love to pursue a life in farming, but don’t have the capital needed to buy land and set themselves up. The answer? A matchmaking service – “the ‘Tinder’ of farm matchmaking” as Sam describes it (sadly he chose not to call it “e-farmony”) – which finds the right farm for the right farmer.
Cultivate Farmers has matched 13 farms with farmers and investors – no small feat – and has 25 ready to be matched. Patience has been the key to all this – building up a large (by niche market standards), loyal following of farmers who sometimes watch these stories closely for years before taking the leap themselves. That’s why Sam just keeps putting the ideas out there, keeps showing what is possible if you really want it, because he knows that eventually it will pay off and he will have earned the confidence of the communities he works with.
Cultivate farms has also developed a world-first farm incubator, where young farmers can develop their ideas and pitch them to financial backers. Two people benefiting from Sam’s drive and innovation are Beck Sloan and Luke Seabrook, young farmers from Chicasaw Pastoral in Stanhope who are participating in Cultivate Farms’ accelerator program, developing a pitch to co-own a farm with investors.
Beck and Luke have the knowledge and know-how to run a farm, but limited access to the capital to improve the productivity of their 65 acres in Stanhope to the level they would like. It was through Cultivate Farms that they began to get creative with the options that they might have to expand their farming operations.
Beck and Luke are seeking to enhance the capabilities of their horticultural enterprise to its maximum potential, through development of permanent irrigation and new processing and packing facilities, while also mitigating the challenges of climate change and changing consumer demands.
As a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, Bendigo and the region has the opportunity to share these stories of innovation with a global audience, and learn from ideas being put into practice around the world. The region’s recognition for its gastronomy – which includes the growing of the food we eat – is also recognition of its creativity, and it’s this creativity and innovation which is evident in the work that Sam does with Cultivate Farms. As the group discusses Sam’s journey at the Start Up Meet Up, it’s evident that there are boundless ideas for ‘content’ here. So many people with so many ideas, be they about farming, technology, diversification of their business or responding to environmental challenges, there is energy here and a fascinating story to tell.
Cover image: AJ Taylor, words: Anna Knight