Tucked away in Palmwoods is a special place where each day is productive and busy. The Compass Farm is a project unlike any others currently in operation, and writer Jacqui Hensel went to visit and find out more.

by Jaqui Hensel

The Compass Farm is self-sufficient, as organic as possible and has several income streams. Unlike most other farms, this one is run by The Compass Institute trainees – people with a disability. 

With assistance from the Farm Manager, Andrew Diggines, the trainees undertake a diverse range of tasks, all with production of a product as their end point. Andrew says working with the Compass trainees is very fulfilling.

Lester and Mitchell Croxon

“We see the ability, not the disability. And we focus on changing lives, giving the trainees meaningful direction and purpose. Therefore, we are focused on skill development and real work experience. 

“We are flexible in what the trainees are able to do each day and although we plan programs, it is a farm and sometimes things go wrong. A pump will break down or the tractor will have a flat battery. 

“So, we learn to be able to work around issues or challenges sometimes. Usually a trainee chooses their program for a term and we like them to stick with it. But it is very much their choice.” 

Helen Smith, General Manager of The Compass Institute, says the farm is one of several social enterprises run by Compass, with the aim to provide real futures for Queenslanders with disabilities.

Helen and Andrew

“The farm is filling the need for young people with disabilities to continue on a vocational pathway after leaving school,” she explains, “and the opportunity to work in a social enterprise.”

With a focus on ‘real world’ skills, the programs aim to empower young people with disabilities and to give them opportunities to pursue a life of purpose.

“Compass is drawing people to the area as there are very few services who offer the same learning and development framework as we do. We have had quite a few families move up from Sydney as they want the opportunities we are offering,” says Helen.

“The NDIS means the trainees now have their individual funding and they have a lot of choice in how they use this. For example, they can choose to attend Compass from one to five days a week.”

Andrew continues, “Compass has five centres across the Sunshine Coast; however, the farm has the most trainees – today there are 50 in attendance. We offer the most diverse range of activities as we have the land and facilities here.

“There is beekeeping, two woodworking workshops, animal husbandry, Harvest Kitchen, arts and craft, small farming, orchards and vegetable gardens.” 

Helen adds, “The Harvest Kitchen uses our produce to make lunches each day which can be purchased by the trainees and staff, as well as making a range of jams and chutneys sold through local businesses.”

While attending, the trainees learn social skills, budgeting, time management and how to access public transport; this enables them to develop independent living skills. It’s an extremely valuable process.

“The Compass Farm trainees have the opportunity to work in a social enterprise,” Helen shares. 

“Each section of the farm is encouraged to produce something that can be sold. The money raised by the sale of our products then goes back into purchasing resources for that section or program of the farm.”

“It’s about supply and demand too,” Andrew points out, “and we are seeking to demonstrate through these programs how people with disabilities can be fully integrated into mainstream society by working within the community.”

The Compass Farm has several commercial agreements, “Cricks Sunshine Coast are using a pack of our jams and chutneys as a gift to their new car buyers. It is labeled with the Compass story; this is a huge and exciting partnership,” Andrew says proudly.

In the pipeline are plans to replicate the farm as part of the Big Pineapple redevelopment.

“We are in the process of developing another parcel of land close to the Big Pineapple so we can offer this program to more trainees,” smiles Andrew. When production begins, the produce from the Big Pineapple Farm will be placed in the retail section of this iconic tourist destination.

“The partnership with the Big Pineapple means we will be able to offer more pathways for young people with disabilities to access vocational training, skill building and employment,” Andrew explains.

Presently The Compass Institute also has a commercial agreement with Whites IGA Baringa which is an all-important retail outlet for produce.

“The new partnership with Whites IGA Baringa supermarket is an opportunity to supply cutlery and napkin holders from our woodwork sections and bulk honey from the beekeepers at the farm. We are always looking for new opportunities for another income stream that also offers the opportunity to tell the Compass story,” Andrew says.

Beekeeping at the Compass Farm

As a not-for-profit organisation, Compass also undertake fundraising activities throughout the year: running events, establishing corporate partnerships and applying for grants to raise money for facility improvements. There are also plans to introduce a music and holiday program. 

“In 2018, we needed two new buses, so we embarked on a fundraising campaign and were fortunate to receive the generous support of the Sunshine Coast community and businesses, in order to raise the money needed,” Helen says graciously.

“Previously we have supplied bug motels and prayer flags to Woodfordia for the Woodford Folk Festival. We already have this year’s supplies well in hand,” Helen laughs, “although we are seeking gum nuts for the bug motels, they have been hard to find.” 

Compass also offers farm tours for community groups. For example, Lions, Probus or groups from a retirement village will come out on a bus and they are given a tour of the farm and a delicious morning tea. 

Following this, the group of visitors might then travel to Compass’ Connections Café in Nambour for lunch.

“It is another way for our trainees to practise the skills they are learning, build their confidence and interact with a diverse range of people. It is also another way for us to tell people about what we are doing – the more we can share our story, the better!” concludes Helen with a smile.

More information about The Compass Institute visit: compassinc.org.au