Peer-to-peer learning in farming communities
Farmer-led learning groups are springing up across Australia.
Croppers in Southeast Queensland are forming their own WhatsApp groups to share stories and questions on their multi-species cropping trials.
Farmer learning groups are also growing around other soil health approaches, such as time-controlled grazing, biological soil amendments, or soil rehydration practices.
Soil health agronomists are also forming learning groups as they face unique questions in assisting landowners to observe their soil biology and soil structure.
What each of these learning groups have in common is that they: share a passion for something that they do, and they learn how to do it better as they interact.
Our recent story of the 8 families – a group that now consists of nine families in the Eastern Riverina, NSW – highlights the benefits of a peer-to-peer learning group.
How did the 8 families come together?
The 8 families initially formed through a connection to Holistic Management training. Their shared location and shared goals for farming was an on-going ‘glue’ for their group.
Over the next 10 years, their group supported one-another through the ongoing experimenting and adapting of practices towards soil, social and economic well-being.
How do they organise their group sessions?
The group meets every 6 weeks, with a new host every time.
They always begin with an Acknowledgement of Country, and the host will read a poem, a first nations story, or talk about the ‘spirit of the land’.
They then allow time for a WIFLE (What I Feel Like Expressing), and continue with a clear agenda. Despite their different enterprises, they ensure the agenda has relevance for everyone.
Often, they’ll focus on one farm. Using their shared Holistic Management decision-making framework, they’ll help that family through a decision, such as selling stock or buying properties.
Often the group will invite experts to ‘sharpen their focus’, and every year they organise field trips across Australia or US to learn new approaches.
What have been the benefits?
The 8 families deeply appreciated how the group offered:
- A safe environment for constructive conversations and freedom to talk about anything
- A ‘brains trust of like-minded people, yet with different perspectives and experiences
- Encouragement for making tough decisions and mutual support for challenging times
- Advice when trying a new practice
- A space to share resources, such as contractors, bulls, agistment and machinery
- A collective to take advantage of stewardship programs and improve advocacy
Reflecting on their time together, the 8 families felt like their group enabled:
- An improved sense of well-being, achievement, life satisfaction and relationship to farming,
- Courage and self-belief to follow their convictions in the face of scepticism or local traditions
- Persistence for innovative practices that support soil and landscape health
Would you like to be involved in or create your own learning community?
Our next round of case studies is on cropping enterprises – see our expression of interest. We’ll select four case studies, but all who submit will have the chance to be part of a peer-to-peer learning community on cropping practices.
If you have a local farming community or group of farmers interested in the same topic, who are curious about a peer-to-peer learning group, please email: [email protected].