History of the site
In 1938 a group of apple farmers around Cygnet were frustrated at how hard it was to make a living off the land. The prices they were being offered by private processing companies were below the cost of production. They decided it was time for action and called a public meeting at Cygnet Town Hall. The government of the day told the meeting that if 100 farmers each put in 10 pounds, they would help them to finance their own processing facility. Within 3 days 100 farmers had agreed and the Cygnet Co-operative Canning Society was born! In its first year the Canning Society paid its farmers double what the private processors had paid. Acting together as a community had delivered results.
Over the following decades, the Cygnet Cannery was the bustling centre of the Cygnet community and the local economy. In season up to 100 people worked there, packing and processing fruit for export from the Port Cygnet wharves to the United Kingdom and Europe. Farmers were paid a decent price for their efforts and the community was strong. They celebrated each year with the Cygnet Apple Festival which featured apple wrapping competitions and the crowning of the Apple Queen – presented in 1958 by Olympian Betty Cuthbert.
Cygnet and the Huon Valley Today
In 2021, the world - and Tasmania - have changed. Never has there been so much fascination in food – including who grows it, how they grow it and where they do so. Partly as a result, after struggling for many years with declining old industries like forestry and apples for export, the region is again a buzz of rapid and exciting progress.
Both old families and new arrivals are investing and experimenting with new enterprises that leverage the wonderful life style, rich soils and consistent rainfall and the global fascination with food and its provenance. As a result, people from across the state and around the world are visiting the area, wanting to touch and feel the magic of Tasmania and engage with those living a quality of life in stark contrast to lives in the world’s cities.
Yet we still see farmers around Cygnet frustrated at how hard it can be to make a living off the land. As a twist on an old saying goes, there is plenty of money to be made in food and agriculture, just not by the farmers who grow it! However, there is still a powerful sense of community and plenty of efforts to actively nurture that. There is a strong spirit to make our own future, as the farmers that formed the original Cannery Co-op did.
Port Cygnet Cannery
This is the context in which a local family has founded the Port Cygnet Cannery as a hub of interconnected food, beverage and agriculture related businesses, established with the local community in mind and as its focus. While this iteration for the Cannery is formally a business rather than a cooperative, it is very much in the same vein as the original - a social enterprise with a strong sense of purpose.
Our intention is simple enough – we want to encourage and support prosperity, quality of life and strength of community for the people of the area, with a particular focus on those who seek to make a living from the land. We want to encourage small farm agriculture and related producers by supporting their people, products and businesses. And we want to promote them to the Tasmanian community and to visitors from around the world.
The central physical focus is the original Cygnet Co-operative Canning Society’s two acre complex at Port Cygnet. Over the past five years we have worked with a skilled group of local tradespeople to create a space which builds on the history of the site while ensuring it will function for its new uses. Leveraging the extraordinary range of local craftspeople, it has also become a display of their creativity and skill.