Turning 11 acres of a NSW ‘dumping site’ into a world-class farm

The refugees, who arrive mostly from Central Africa and the border region between Thailand and Myanmar, already had farming skills. But they could not get jobs.

Green Connect stepped in with a project that would use their skills, provide employment and supply fresh fruit and vegetables to the community. In the last 12 months, the farm has sold 35,000 kilograms of food, provided seven permanent jobs and 30 casual jobs and run tours and workshops for more than 1900 individuals.

And for the task of repurposing such an unprepossessing parcel of land, it was the ideal workforce.

“A lot of our refugees grew food in refugee camps where they had nothing,” Ms Flament said. “If you can grow food in a refugee camp, you can grow it anywhere.”

Karenni refugee Pleh Me, who was born in a refugee camp on the Thailand border and lived there until she moved to Australia at the age of 30 in 2009, has been working at the farm since it opened. “It’s given me fresh air and when we go to the farm we can talk to some new people from different cultures and we can learn English,” she said.

Last year, 73 per cent of the staff who left Green Connect went on to gain other employment or go into mainstream education.

“Our young people turn up and when we ask, ‘what kind of job do you envisage for yourself?’ they almost invariably reply, ‘I don’t know’,” Ms Flament said.

“And when our refugees turn up and we ask them the same question, they almost invariably reply, ‘anything’.

“They work so beautifully together. There’s this magic where young people bring English language and Australian culture and share that with our refugee staff, and the refugee staff bring a very hard work ethic and stories of hardship that make young people sit up and think, ‘maybe my life is not so bad after all’.”

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