Regional Highlight

Online community builds pride in the future of farming

When Alex and Mark Westlake set up their Instagram account The Chef and Chief late last year, they knew they wanted to share ideas and add value to their newly diversified farming business. What they didn’t expect was to form such strong relationships, or to spur hope in Alex’s dad.

“We’re just having a go – we don’t think we’re experts, but we are proud to be young farmers in the Murraylands,” says Alex Westlake of Bridgeland Park, just outside Murray Bridge.

“I was born here and grew up here, then I went away – it’s a common story – when I came back, I realised that the Murraylands is just as special if not more special than anywhere I’ve seen in the world. I want more people to make that claim about our region.”

When Alex and Mark Westlake set up their Instagram account The Chef and Chief late last year, they knew they wanted to share ideas and add value to their newly diversified farming business. What they didn’t expect was to form such strong relationships, or to spur hope in Alex’s dad.

“We’ve got a good story to tell – and if you’ve got good stories, you’ve got a sense of pride and place.”

It’s that passion for sharing stories about the Murraylands and its people and produce that got Alex interested in social media. But her confidence didn’t come naturally.

“I was reluctant to put myself out there at first. When you don’t know the ins and outs, it can be a scary place to be – but I wanted to overcome that.”

When she heard that RDA Murraylands and Riverland was subsidising a regional social media course for members of the Farm to Fork Networking Group, Alex got on board.

The online course, called My Open Kitchen, is run by Rural Woman of the Year, Sophie Hansen. To make sure it wasn’t all virtual, the RDA facilitated a weekly online chat with Sophie, and held weekly face-to-face sessions for participants to meet, work together and bounce ideas around.

My Open Kitchen is based on the idea that people who buy value-added products want to know the real story of the people behind the brands.

The course helps regional farmers, producers and cooks to define themselves, their products, their passions, and their customers – and gives them the tools to build their story from there, supported by a network of fellow graduates.

“Through the course, I realised that social media is actually a community of people, so it’s not the scary, alien tech world you think it is. It’s real people behind the device, and you’re having real conversations and developing real relationships,” says Alex.

Alex says her dad has been encouraged by the connections she’s forming though stories about the farm on her Instagram account, The Chef and Chief.

“When I put up a photo and get a great response to it, I tell my dad, and he’s really thrilled that someone’s taken an interest in the humble things we’re doing. Seeing that interest in his place and his farm has really spurred him on – he sees there’s a future for farming.”

Alex and Mark have been learning all they can from Alex’s dad, but they know there are other ways of doing things.

They are reaching out to learn as they go, including from the online farming community.

“If you want to build relationships and learn from people in other regions, social media is a really easy way to do that. It can only be positive.”

Alex encourages all regional farmers and producers considering social media to “put yourself out there, give it a go.”

Follow Alex and Mark Westlake on Instagram @thechefandchief

Farmers, food and beverage producers and cooks – join the Farm to Fork Networking Group for networking and training opportunities.

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