Trentham was the sixth town around Melbourne I have visited over the last ten day and it is typical of all the communities who are also grappling with their future.
Pressures and opportunities of being so close to such a booming city and a farming industry in decline. Being further out than places like Casey it is not under pressure from urban sprawl directly, but with Ozzies happy to drive several hundred Kilometres for a night out, many Melbournians are moving out to these picturesque communities.
Like so many, Trentham has two faces to its food-scape, on the surface, to a tourist, food is a strong economic driver with cafes, artisan bakeries, farmers markets and a growing population of semi-retiries and young professionals moving onto the land to farm.
Talk to a local farmer and you soon discover that the situation is far from idea – many describe it as desperate. Traditional farmers are going out of business, or getting deeper and deeper into debt and their children are heading to the city. Pressure from supermarkets and their ilk continue to force prices down and farmers are relying more and more on the inflated land and property prices to pay off debts or provide a pension in later life.
Each area I've visited played a unique role feeding the local population and the city of Melbourne. Geology plays a huge role in determining the type of farming, some areas are blessed with rich volcanic soil and rainfall, with access to water a crucial factor. Trentham is one such area, 700 metres above sea level, its colder and wetter than many areas. With its large trees and rolling hills it looks like England in the Summer and so was an idea area to grow potatoes and raise beef.
Just a hundred or so kilometres away places like Dookie looks more like the great plans of America with 'broadacre' farms of huge expanses of cereal crops. The area around Casey was ideal for fruit & veg production and Stanhope specialised in tomato production and fruit.
But each tells a story of a globalised food industry that is deserting them, having bleed them dry -literally in some cases. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of acres of ripped up orchards, with trees in piles ready for burning and I've met many many farmers asking what next?