Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal
Yarra Valley ECOSS is an environmental and educational not-for-profit organisation based on a 7.4 hectare permaculture-designed farm at Wesburn, just east of Melbourne. Their vision is to promote local food production, earth education, and multicultural living, while building work skills and developing a vibrant, resilient, inclusive and sustainable community.
They play a critical role in their community, supporting people with disabilities, as well as providing food relief.
ECOSS currently has five part-time staff, supported by a management committee and an active and enthusiastic group of volunteers, students and work-experience partners. Like many not-for-profit organisations, their usual fundraising activities were curbed by the COVID-19 pandemic. ECOSS’s Executive Officer Chelsea McNab explained.
“At the beginning of 2021 we were all still thinking that 2020 was ‘the pandemic year’ and that 2021 would be able to go back to normal living.
“But there have been many adjustments – reacting to the ever-changing COVID restrictions and operating in a safe way. This includes constant updates to our COVID Safe plans, the ability to run programs and have people on site, purchasing of equipment, extra cleaning costs, building an outside kitchen and hand-wash stations, shutting down the office and staff working remotely, as restrictions require.”
Ms McNab said that with many facilitators and performers to account for, the costs of rescheduling events and school programs took a lot of staff time, and they have had to create new policies and strategies for adjusting to the instability of the times.
Despite it being a difficult year, ECOSS has actually shown its strength over the last six months.
“Our mission and focus on food security, volunteerism, and supporting small business have all been able to thrive through our Community Garden and The Valley Market. We have found that we are able to continue all of these aspects of our NFP during the pandemic. The Crops for Community program has also been able to continue through lockdowns, as it is seen as an essential service, offering our community members with disabilities a place to continue to come in the community garden, and continue to grow crops that are distributed to two local food relief agencies. There has been a huge demand for food relief this year, and we are grateful to be able to support these programs.”
The pandemic forced ECOSS to think outside the box, and they have attracted new co-locator tenants, whose rent increases their income, and also enables ECOSS to support the growth of small businesses run by locals and new migrants. Chelsea McNab again:
“We have learned that we have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing scenarios very quickly. We have also learned that co-locator tenants’ income is a great way to underpin our finances, and offers a richness of diversity to the site.”
ECOSS partnered with FRRR in April 2019 to open a Not-for-Profit Fundraising Account, which allows them to receive tax deductible donations from donors to support their activities. This is how they hope to raise enough funds to cover one staff member for two and a half days per week.
“We can achieve so much with extra staff hours. We have been able to support more volunteers, increasing and supporting their growth and skill development. The stability of having staff enables us to forward plan and to run the site more sustainably,” Chelsea says.