I was particularly excited to visit Les and others from the Goulburn Valley Food Coop because I had heard about the inspiring work they had been doing in and around Girgarre in response to Heinz closing a local food processing factory.
The area is very dependant on farming and many in the town have traditionally been employed in processing and tinning factories. When Heinz announced it was closing its factory in 2012 the coop was established. Beyond the 146 immediate jobs lost, it was estimated that another 700 jobs were effected including local businesses, haulers and obviously farmers.
Les Cameron – who I was fortunate to stay with – helped establish the co-op with 750 members. It is run by a committee of 30 members – two thirds of whom are previous factory workers.
So, with huge support, the group offered to buy the factory from Heinz for $750,000. This was rejected – despite it being reportedly the best offer they received.
After this the group attempted to establish a factory of their own, but this was scuppered after a significant financial backer (having independent financial problems) pulled out and so the virtual factory concept was born.
In 2013 with the help of local businesses their famous tomato pasta sauce was manufactured. With an initial run of 5,000 jars, the sauce has been made with local tomatoes and has been sold as a package – a £5 'meal deal' of sauce and organic pasta.
For more info click here.
With this success the co-op has been looking for its next venture and this came with a Pear Cider. After its first batch sold out, its second run has just been launched and I was lucky enough to taste both!