DELVE into Gordon and there is a wealth of fantastic produce, artisans and people doing really cool things. Susanna McPherson knows - she proudly lives in the thick of the region, and wanted to develop a way not just for out-of-owners to discover this but an avenue to bring the Gordon community together more.
It was in the heart of Scullin, an outer northern suburb of Canberra, Ms McPherson had her idea. Amid an empty, run-down set of shops the community had rallied in a volunteer-run not-for-profit showcasing the local wares.
A coffee shop soon moved in, then a yoga studio, as more people started coming into the area.
Gordon, a country town off the Western Highway, has a completely different vibe but for Ms McPherson the premise of bringing people together and fostering community pride was a starting point.
Ms McPherson put her idea out there in late October, a community-run farm gate shop, and the project has fast been gaining traction.
What I'm hearing in the community is we have a lot of different people doing things...Even before figuring how we could do this or that, it was about finding a way for showcasing our produce and tourism.Susanna McPherson
"What I'm hearing in the community is we do have lots of community groups and a lot of different people doing things in the area but not really a central way to support each other," Ms McPherson said.
"We hope the farm gate will also get people who are out on the weekend or down from Melbourne. Even before figuring how we could do this or that, it was about finding a way for showcasing our produce and tourism.
"Health is a factor too. A supermarket is about 20 minutes away - it's not as easy to duck out if you need something, you have to plan for it. This might inspire people to shop local more."
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Ms McPherson is a finance team leader for Central Highlands Water. She ventured into Scullin with Leadership Ballarat and Western Region's leaders forum on its annual Canberra trip that, while focusing on meeting federal politicians, also put community initiatives in focus.
The experience empowered Ms McPherson to have the confidence and realise she could make a difference.
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There are strong foundations already in place in Gordon.
Run by Yemeni-born chef Sal Alshamsi and his business partner Scott Graham, the Middle Eastern-inspired menu attracts plenty of day-trippers and some loyal locals. There are also those keen to drop off the freeway for a bite to eat in a bid to by-pass fast food options in their commute from or to Melbourne. Many find them on Google.
The pair bought an old pub seven years ago and gradually converted it into the cafe. There are still rooms to develop in the building that also had an incarnation as a refuge for alcoholics in the 1970, run by nuns who once had Mother Teresa stay on a visit.
Mr Graham supports the farm gate concept as a way to unite and promote a changing Gordon community that has plenty to offer.
"We're certainly engaged with locals but we are also a town that doesn't have a supermarket. A lot of people who live here need to get into Ballarat a lot," Mr Graham said.
"There are a lot of people moving to the area who have done their time in outer Melbourne and want a bit more space."
There are a lot of people moving to the area who have done their time in outer Melbourne and want a bit more space.Scott Graham, Gordon Bleu
One such tree-changer is Alicia Gordon who, with her now-husband, knew this was the town for them after visiting on a name-inspired whim.
Ms Gordon runs The Chapel Store, predominantly selling products made in Gordon and neighbouring towns. The Chapel, which opened late last year, is open Friday to Sundays to cater for visitors from Ballarat and Bacchus Marsh and locals who are out-and-about at the weekend - including plenty of prospective tree-changers hunting for property.
"This is quite a growth area and I have found good, loyal support from people in town coming and buying from me - I think there are a lot more people supporting buying local now," Ms Gordon said. "There is a bit of change going on."
Ms Gordon said the farm gate shop would be a great way to help build on all that was going on.
The Gordon Hotel is a popular community gathering place and runs social club events, like winery tours, for members.
Different community groups also activated the township for the McGrath Foundation's Pink Up Your Town campaign in October, their efforts supporting Pink Up Ballan in fundraiser for breast care nurses.
Meanwhile, Ms McPherson is channelling this energy and support in a working group. They are doing their research on other not-for-profits in the region, in a bid to learn from these and ensure the project has the best chance of community success.
More details: Gordon Farm Gate Initiative on Facebook
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