Good news story – Common Ground Project

Greta Carroll, Community Engagement Manager and Ivan Blacket, Farm Manager from the Common Ground Project with a story on Being Inclusive

Excerpts from the GROW report card online event – 26th Nov 2021

Liz: Can you start by explaining who you are and what the Common Ground Project is?

Greta: Common Group project is small scale regenerative farm and social enterprise in Freshwater Creek located between Geelong and Torquay. We’ve been part of the GROW network for two years.

Liz: If you can let us know what are some of the activities you’ve been doing as part of GROW?

Greta: In addition to growing food and teaching people how to grow food, we’ve also been lucky enough to receive funding from Give Where You Live and that has allowed us to partner with Diversitat (both signatories of GROW) and we employ people who are part of the GROW community ie isolated women seeking asylum in the Geelong, Corio and Norlane regions. Through our ‘Staying Grounded’ program we employ them once a week ie paid hospitality work experience for confidence and competence development. We cook around 100-150 meals every week which are distributed through food relief organisations and that fits as part of our GROW action plan in terms of intentionally seeking to employ people from GROW communities and partnering with other organisations within the GROW network.

Liz: Absolutely perfect! And it sounds like you’ve been doing this for about a year now, so what’s been the impact of this for your organisation?

Greta: Common Ground exists to connect people and provide employment pathways through food and farming, so this is just one part of our bigger vision and why we exist.

I would say that overall the ‘Staying Grounded’ program has allowed us to create some deep connections within the community as a relatively young organisation within the G21 region. ‘Staying Grounded’ has definitely allowed us to seek out other organisations to work with and build a stronger, better, more local community.

Liz: Can you give us a sense of how that has impacted the people involved in the project from Diversitat. What do you think has happened for them?

Greta: I speak to a lot of the participants quite regularly. We get lots of emails and phone calls regarding food production questions which is amazing, and I love it. ‘When is the best time to harvest my garlic or plant my cauliflowers?’

What we see is that people who come into the program are often lacking workplace confidence and their confidence with English is… I don’t want to say low – but you watch it grow… It doesn’t matter where someone is at when they enter the program by the time they leave, they’re singing and dancing in the kitchen and we’re swapping English for Tamil (Sri Lanka) and Pashto or Dari (Afghanistan) or bringing food from home or inviting us to their homes and you watch this ‘opening’…

Ivan: I think one big thing is you often see them get a lot more excited about sharing their culture. I think quite often when women start in the program they don’t know whether it’s safe to really express those parts of themselves they generally express at home or within their community or families and we do find that during the course of the program towards the end they feel more confident and proud to celebrate their culture, bringing what they are cooking at home and they express themselves a lot more than they do at the beginning – and it’s beautiful to watch.

Liz: It must be a beautiful program to be a part of… It sounds like so much fun.

Greta: Yes, and then beyond the program and even during it some participants come in after three weeks and say, ‘I’ve got a job!’ That workplace readiness – you just see it. They feel more confident applying for jobs and entering workplaces which is the goal. We only have so much time a week that we can allocate to funding those programs and to know that a knock-on effect is that participants also have increased agency outside of that, is why we do it.