Seblework Tadesse and Mal McKenna are searching for a suitable location for their cooperative farming venture.
Seblework Tadesse and Mal McKenna are searching for a suitable location for their cooperative farming venture. David Nielsen

Farming collective, migrants causing a stir in Rosewood

A PROPOSED farming collective that could potentially bring a large migrant workforce to Rosewood is causing a stir among the local community.

The Okie Dokie Farm is the brainchild of Mal McKenna, a former school teacher turned activist. Mal is passionate about permaculture and providing opportunities for "emerging communities".

The team behind Okie Dokie, a project run by the not-for-profit organisation People Power Services (PPS), has been on the hunt for a farm of about 40ha to call its own for two years.

Now Mal says they are on the cusp of signing the dotted line.

While the model for how the farm would run is yet to be determined, the premise is that groups of up to 10 people would pool about $10,000 to lease a 0.4ha block, where they would intensively farm organic produce.

The lease money would go towards buying the farm.

"We will start with 40 groups and build more as interest grows," Mal said.

"We intend to buy the farm with a low interest loan and pay it off as soon as possible, with a little money from a lot of people."

Each group of farmers would be responsible for the resources to grow their own produce.

Farmers would not live on the property, except for one caretaker family in the existing home.

How they use the produce, whether they consume it themselves or sell it is at discretion of the individuals.

Even though the project is being aimed at refugee and migrant communities, Mal hopes local farmers will become involved by cultivating their own block or sharing their skills.

"It's paramount that the local community comes along with us," Mal said.

"We've approached these people (migrant and refugee communities) because they are excellent farmers and want to work. Hopefully some of them will make Rosewood their home.

"Their skills are wasted in the city."

The group is looking at properties on the outskirts of Rosewood.

Mal, who is also a PPS director, said Rosewood was chosen as an ideal location because of the railway line and "warm, friendly" atmosphere.

Social worker and PPS director Seblework Tedesse, said the project provided an opportunity for new Australians to break down barriers to employment.

"Many of the migrants we work with, particularly those from African countries come from agricultural backgrounds and they want to work," Seblework said.

"But where many of them are settled in Brisbane and Ipswich, there is no room for them to use their skills.

"The majority are thankful to be living in peace and they want to contribute to Australian society, they want to belong.

"It's important to them that they are not seen as victims and that the next generation see their parents being productive so they learn the importance of work at a young age."

Division 10 councillor for Ipswich David Pahlke said the concept of bringing in an outside workforce was not a new one.

"Any landowner can do this now - bring people in to work the land, then they go home at night," he said.

"It's happening in the Lockyer now with backpackers is it not?"

Federal Member for Blair, Shayne Neumann said the initiative was "proof" of the "welcoming" Rosewood community.

"We've seen the invaluable contribution refugees have made throughout Blair and this project is a unique way for refugees in Rosewood to work, feel included, and share in the local community," he said.

To learn more about the project visit the website


Community consultation

ROSEWOOD Community Centre coordinator Donna Hanlon has set up three community consultations meetings about the project meetings since 2016.

"The meetings are an opportunity for people to voice either their support of the project or have their concerns listened to," Donna said. "Factual information will be provided by the representatives of the project, which hopefully will provide a clearer picture for locals."

Donna listed concerns heard at previous community consultations including apprehension around increased crime rates, the suitability of the land for farming, limited water availability, unemployed locals being overlooked, and limited resources to overcome language barriers.

On the other hand, positive feedback received included that the project provided a platform for those looking to learn farming skills, an opportunity for unemployed and new Australians to contribute, and the cultural influences the group would bring to the community.

A community information session will be held on January 20 at the Uniting Church Hall, John Street Rosewood from 1.30pm to 3.30pm. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.

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