- A shared area of interest and/or competence.
- A sense of community, where members of the group engage in joint activities and discussions, and share information and learnings, and often support each other through challenges.
- A shared practice, including experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurrent problems that they have discussed, developed or implemented together.
Most producers are familiar with this idea, though often under different names. Landcare groups, peer-mentoring groups, holistic management groups are all examples of communities of practice.
Gill reflected that, in regenerative farming, you have to rely on your own knowledge, insights and observations so much more, and having the group means we have other people to share experiences, ideas and insights with. “As the group developed, there was a growth in the comradeship, trust and people’s willingness to share. It is not a counselling session, but a place where you can really be heard.”
“We share techniques and approaches, do farm tours, and take a critical approach to discussing each other’s ideas and challenges to ensure we give constructive and supportive feedback,” Gill says.
In a farming business, there is no boundary between the business and life. “While we generally talk about farming, anything can come up,” Gill says. “People go through different situations and the group is just there, quietly, in the background providing a tower of strength.”
Gill at an 8 families workshop
Meetings are usually accompanied by a morning tea of home baked cakes. And the annual Christmas party is time to have fun and just spend time together.
One of the greatest benefits of communities of practice is the increased capacity to learn. We often assume that learning happens in classrooms or workshops, and knowledge is poured into our heads like water from a jug into a glass. In reality, most of our learning happens as a result of our practical experience (trying things ourselves) and from social interactions, especially sharing knowledge with others in groups. The 8 families are a living demonstration of this.
Together, the 8 families have explored new ideas and trialed them on the farms. They meet every six weeks, each time on a different farm, and usually do a farm tour and discuss what is happening on the farm. Together, they have a huge amount of collective knowledge. “Our group brings a wealth of experience from different perspectives including non-farming businesses, which we share with each other,” Gill says.
Gill also highlighted the importance of fostering new groups, which she does with Brian Wehlberg from Inside Outside Management. “I have supported the set up four new groups now, and I am happy to step up and enjoy the process,” she says. “A one-pager of tips for building a successful support group was shared at the recent Farming Matters Conference in Albury.”