While I was pregnant with my first child, someone told me that parenting is simultaneously the best and hardest thing in the world. So much love and joy and meaning intertwined with frustration and fear and heartache. And it is true.

Running a social enterprise is much the same. Green Connect will be 11 years old in January and like any pre-teen, it is growing up and finding its way in the world. 2021 has brought more than its fair share of challenges (like having parts of our business on hold due to COVID, widespread hardship in the community, and the environmental fallout of single-use masks, gloves and wipes) but also more than its fair share of triumphs (like international recognition, launching a new business unit, and some impactful projects like our community support initiative that saw 3,000 care packages donated to people in need). Author Karen Walrond talks about how “joy abuts disaster” – that out of the worst moments sometimes come our best moments. Overwhelmingly, that and the amazingness of our community are what I’ll take from 2021.

Here is what is happening across Green Connect at the moment. We’d love you to keep being part of it.

We’re hiring!

We are looking for a Zero Waste Coordinator to relaunch our zero waste services for businesses and events, and an Activity Coordinator to coordinate tours and workshops and develop new activities at the Green Connect Farm.

Please click on the links above for more information, a position description and to apply. We’re running the recruitment process a little differently this time around in that we’ll assess applications as they come in and close them off as soon as we find someone we think will be great for each role.

We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to the team!

Illawarra Business Awards

On Friday night we were honoured with three awards by the region’s business community:

  • Winner, Excellence in Sustainability
  • Highly Commended, Outstanding Community Organisation
  • Winner, Young Business Leader of the Year (and I only just made it in to this category with eight days to spare!)

We have been the proud recipients of several awards over the past few years but what struck me at this awards night was just how many social enterprises, not-for-profits and community organisations were amongst the winners. 11 years ago when Green Connect was just an idea in a few people’s heads, the idea of business-for-good was considered an oxymoron. Today, it’s the ultimate goal of many organisations – and award ceremonies like this one show how purpose-driven companies truly shine.

Congratulations to all of the finalists and award winners, and thank you to everyone who reached out on the night or in the days since, and to the Illawarra Mercury for sharing our story today.

We are automatically finalists in the NSW Business Awards this Friday night.

Work experience started

We hire young people (of any background) and refugees (of any age) and give them training, paid work and wrap-around support to get and keep a long-term job. It all starts at the Green Connect Farm, a safe and welcoming space, where newcomers are offered six half-days of training and work experience spread over three weeks. In that time they get a feel for arriving on time, wearing PPE, working with others, asking questions and staying on task. We also cover work health and safety and some practical skills like brushcutter training.

We’re thrilled to have welcomed another eight paid staff into the Green Connect team following on from last week’s work experience program. We’re taking a short break over Christmas but will be offering the program to any young people and refugees who want to be a part of it from mid-January next year. More information here.

Working bee thank you

On Saturday 30 October we held a working bee at the Green Connect Farm and were overwhelmed by the 69 people who showed up and helped to get our farm tidied up in time for farm tours this summer. THANK YOU!! You’re amazing. Check out the photos here.

Governor-General visit

On Monday 8 November we were honoured to show the Australian Governor-General David Hurley (who grew up just down the road from our farm!) and Mrs Linda Hurley around the Green Connect Farm, and have a yarn about social and environmental good. They are lovely people that are full of empathy and hope and an enthusiasm for connecting people and ideas to solve some of the biggest challenges of our time. Knowing Mrs Hurley’s keen interest in reducing waste, we’re looking forward to welcoming them back to Wollongong sometime to show them our zero waste op shop.

Gardening and landscaping work

We launched a gardening and landscaping business unit this year to create more supported employment opportunities for our young people and former refugees. After they complete work experience at the farm, the gardening and landscaping team is usually their first paid work opportunity and they are absolutely thriving!

A huge thank you to all our residential and commercial customers who keep booking us in to do grounds maintenance and garden blitzes. We’re loving how engaged people are in the work that we do for people and the planet, and the pride our staff take in transforming your green spaces into beautiful, productive areas to enjoy.

How much can we recycle?

When we took on an op shop two years ago we were excited about the opportunity to create a safe, welcoming retail space and to enable people to reuse items that already exist. As Naomi from Reverse Garbage said at a conference she and I presented at recently: “Why would you ever buy anything new when something exists in the world that could be used for that very purpose?”


As it turns out though, a lot of the items that are donated to an op shop aren’t able to be sold – sometimes because they’re damaged, other times because no one wants them. So our team of passionate waste warriors at the op shop work doubly hard to make sure that as much of the non-reusable items as possible are recycled (including giving them away for reuse – like old towels to animal shelters and broken crockery to Smash Lab). We are up to 44 recycling streams and counting!

Sewing group starting

Do you sew, or want to learn? Are you passionate about doing sewing projects that will help us to reuse textiles that would otherwise go to waste?

One of our lovely op shop volunteers is starting a sewing group on a Wednesday afternoon in early 2022. Please email [email protected] if you’re interested in being part of it.

Volunteers needed

Do you have half a day or more up your sleeve each week and want to do something meaningful (and meet some great people while you’re doing it)?

There are lots of ways to be involved in what we do. Here are a few ideas…

  • Op shop volunteers, especially on weekday afternoons (until 4.45pm) and Saturdays (until 2.15pm)
  • Farm volunteers to maintain our children’s garden and demonstration backyard (Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays)
  • A builder or electrician or similar to help with occasional projects at the farm
  • Bush regeneration volunteers to improve and maintain the native creeklines running through our farm (currently on Thursdays but will change to every second Saturday)
  • Office volunteers (any weekday)
  • A data entry expert with a keen eye for detail to help our Engagement and Support manager (Wednesday or Thursday)
  • A market stall volunteer to help our staff member Su Meh at the Kiama Farmers Market every now and then (occasional Wednesday afternoon)
  • Goat whisperers at the farm (would suit someone who just wants to hang out with our sheep and goats and talk to them for a couple of hours each week so that they get used to people and come towards us like the pigs do rather than running away when our visitors really want to see them!) (Thursdays are ideal as they’re quiet)

Send us an Expression of Interest here.

Community support project – thank you!

If you’ve read my previous newsletters, you’ll know that during lockdown people were doing it really tough and we reached out to the community to ask if anyone could chip in $40 to get an individually selected care package from our op shop or a veg box from our farm (and later frozen meals from Merrigong or food hampers from Foodbank) to someone in need. We thought we would help a couple dozen people but the need kept growing and so did the donations, so we kept going.

Over the 106 days in lockdown and the few weeks since, we have delivered 3,069 packages. THANK YOU for your support, and if you still want to donate, we’re still hoping to get a few more care packages and veg boxes out before Christmas. Donate here.

We also ran a community event of our own, offering for each of our staff and volunteers to choose items to make up their own complimentary care package on Saturday 13 November (World Kindness Day, by coincidence). It was so much fun, and wonderful to see everyone again! There were a lot of smiling eyes on top of the face masks. More photos here.

Christmas tips and gifts

I know it’s only a month until Christmas and maybe you’ve done your shopping, but if you haven’t, here are some tips for a sustainable Christmas…

  1. Buy less, do more
  2. Don’t overcater – or if you do, make the most of the leftovers
  3. Ask for second-hand or sustainable gifts, or for loved ones to make a donation on your behalf
  4. Keep clear of single use anything – some people stock up on extra plates, cutlery, glasses and serving dishes from the op shop just before Christmas. It’s much better for the environment, and for the same price as plastic rubbish – win, win!

Here are some Christmas gift options from Green Connect…

  1. Farm tour. Treat someone (or a whole family/group/team) to a tour of the Green Connect Farm in Wollongong to see how this 11 acre site has been transformed from weeds and rubbish into a thriving permaculture farm that has won international awards. Visit the pigs, goats, sheep and chickens, and see more than 90 different edible plants growing organically. $24 per adult, $14 per child, kids under 4 free. Public tours every Thursday and Saturday throughout summer or you can book a private one. Tour and workshop vouchers are also available.
  2. Donate a chicken$20. Chickens help us by eating scraps, providing manure for fertiliser, and laying eggs. Sponsor a chicken on behalf of someone for a Christmas gift that is sure to make them chuckle.
  3. Sponsor a tree$50-300 purchases a tree that we’ll add to our food forest, helping to store carbon, provide habitat for local species, cool the air and provide food for the local community.
  4. Op shop voucherYou choose the amount and we’ll send you a gift card for your loved one so they can buy themselves some beautiful items that don’t cost the earth.
  5. Veg box voucherYou choose the amount and we’ll send you a gift card so your loved one can buy themselves a veg box, honey, eggs, etc.
  6. Donate a care package$40. We’ll pay it forward by individually selecting a big box of goodies from our op shop for someone in need and home deliver it (or let them come and choose themselves).
  7. Donate a veg box. $40. We’ll deliver a box of fruit and veg from the Green Connect farm to a family in need in our community.

Annual report

I know it sounds like it will be a boring document but it really is an interesting read! Check out everything our broader organisation, Community Resources, did in the 2021 financial year, including what we did at Green Connect (pages 13-15). Available here.

Annual General Meeting

Like all organisations, we hold an AGM each year and everyone is welcome. This year it will be held online, from 6pm on Thursday 16 December. To RSVP and receive a link, please email [email protected].

We are a member-based, not-for-profit organisation so if you want to have a say in the future of Green Connect and our broader organisation Community Resources, you can also email the attached membership form to [email protected]. Membership is $2 per year.

You may even want to consider joining our Board. Director nominations are being sought and we can have up to 10 additional directors. You can email [email protected] to ask for a director nomination form. These nominations close at 5pm on Thursday 2 December. Please note that as per our Constitution, employees of Community Resources including Green Connect cannot be appointed to the Board.

Final note

As always, if you have read right through to the end then THANK YOU for taking such an interest in what we do at Green Connect. It is always an honour to do the work that we do which, while challenging, is incredibly meaningful, and I appreciate how much support we get from our customers, staff, volunteers, funders and the broader community.

I always love hearing from you so please don’t hesitate to reply with any ideas, questions or comments on what we’re up to.

Very best wishes for the end of the year.