As part of our Lifting the Veil series, originally shared in summer 2024, we’ve been talking honestly about the realities that we and other similar, small-scale farmers and community organisations are faced with when trying to lead food system change.

We think it’s really important our community knows the challenges we face so they can understand how to best support us make this place thrive, and to make our work advocating for food system change more effective and wide reaching.

This is part 1: The economic struggle

Farming is an industry of slim profit margins. Regenerative and organic even more so. 

Somewhere, sometimes – there is a magic formula which can unlock a sweet spot of economies of scale and labour efficiencies. But finding this sweet spot is tricky, and the uniqueness of each site/project means a modelling approach is fraught with limitations and assumptions.

Taking care of the land as we farm it, prioritising human labour over fossil-fuel powered machinery, and trying to create sustainable jobs comes with a cost. 

One big cost is time (aka patience) – especially in relation to our newer market garden space. In that it’s slow to create a food producing medium, and while we do the mahi to regenerate and build soil, the labour inputs outweigh the income potential of the land. 

It is an investment in the future – in building healthy soil that will (fingers crossed) produce food for many years to come, and be more resilient to the effects of climate change. Also, in learning from the land through trial and error, to see what works best, and where the efficiencies will manifest themselves.

But the future payoff will never be big. We’re aiming for break-even, and in favourable years, a small profit to reinvest back into equipment and/or a resilience fund.

We have faith in this more productive future. In our ability to grow more nutrient dense food, and to feed more of our community. 

Nourishment will come in two important and intertwined ways. Firstly, by feeding more people organic, regenerative food, and secondly, by creating opportunities for education and community access to these ways of working. It’s why one of our key goals is ‘using our site to demonstrate best practice (ethical, organic, regenerative production)’.

And our opportunity to do this work – nourishing people, educating communities and caring for the land – in the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau is so important in addressing the disconnect between people and our food landscapes. 

Kelmarna Community Farm, and other small scale, local growers and retail outlets like us can be models to look to for a better food future. We can provide more than just fresh, low-carbon produce. We can also encourage healthier diets, contribute to a local food economy, create meaningful jobs, and bring people together.

Read on for Part 2: Grant Funding Challenges