Colin and his wife Delilah have created a veritable ‘Garden of Eden’ at Comboyne. Producing an incredible variety of fresh organic, chemical free fruits and vegetables, they supply tasty, nutritious food to health conscious customers at the Hastings Farmers Markets.
> Tell us how long the property has been in the family and how the farm was started?
The farm was started by my grandfather. The land was freehold land, which was selected by him in 1908. He had recently migrated to Australia from Dover, England and he was here for a couple years before choosing the farm on the Comboyne Plateau.
The land we own was some of the last land that was available on the Comboyne Plateau, and as a consequence, this property is on the edge of the Plateau. Being on the edge of the Plateau means the country is very rough, and most of it is very fertile.
On the steep points of the farm, the ground is very hard to work being of volcanic basalt origin. Most of the property is rainforest, which has built the soils up greatly. The property is very difficult to work on and you must know what works best where because of its elevation.
The elevation of the property from top to bottom is about 900 feet, so there is a lot of legwork. The soils vary from the very light reddish krasnozem soil, as it’s called, down to the deep chocolate soil at the bottom of the property.
> What were some of the first fruits and vegetables planted on the property?
To start with they grew apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, citrus and a full mix of common fruits. As well as vegetables, including staples like potatoes, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, peas, etc. Beans, peas and corn became a large part of the income for the farm.
The farm was originally a dairy farm and beef grazing farm, however it changed to fruit and vegetable produce after the dairy industry became deregulated in early 2000s. Beef cattle are still an income for the business.
> You have spent all your life in Comboyne. When did you actually take over the property?
Yes I have lived here all my life, working on the farm for as long as I can remember. I also raised my own family here, however it wasn’t until 1987 that I officially took over the running of the farm. I was working with my father from a young age, right through the time I took over … and even after I had taken over.
The farm does bring me great joy and it is what I have always known and seen as our family business.
> You joined the Hastings Farmers Market when it first started. How important was that step in helping grow the profile of the farm?
Firstly we needed to have the Farmers Market to derive an income. As I mentioned earlier, we were dairy farmers but left the industry after the deregulation of the dairy industry in 2001. This deregulation halved the price of the farmer’s gate money for milk.
The Farmers Market was used as a rescue point when it started in February 2002. We did need the markets urgently for a base income.
> What were some of the first fruits and vegetables that you offered at the Farmers Market?
The first fruits and vegetables came from the trees and crops that were already established on the farm. Some of the fruit trees on the property were planted by my grandfather, as he was keen horticulturist. Some of the original trees he had planted still provide us with fruit today.
My father had also established small homestead orchards with the essential fruits and vegetables, and when we left the dairy industry I followed the pattern and planted different varieties. I am still planting more trees, harvesting the crops and maintaining the different orchards.
We pick the fruit and vegetables fresh off the trees when in season. We do not store the fruit in cold rooms, that way it’s fresh picked the day before the markets.
> What are you selling at the moment? What is popular and in season?
Persimmons, feijoas, some apples, oranges, tree tomatoes called tamarillos, avocados, limes, and other little odd fruits. Other fruits and vegetables like lemons are now starting to come back in season.
We also grow almonds, walnuts and macadamias, pecans, Spanish chestnuts, chokos, and some Jerusalem artichokes.
> Do you have any plans to introduce new fruits and vegetables later this year or next year?
If you are speaking fruits, the growth period is always long term. If you plant a fruit tree this year then you won’t be expecting them to produce the next season. It does take several years for the fruits to develop on the trees and produce a saleable quantity.
On the other hand you can plant vegetables, for example, radishes and have a crop grown in a matter of six weeks later. People are generally seeking to buy the ‘normal’ fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, pears, cucumbers and bananas (it is a bit cold here to grow bananas), pumpkin, beans and squash.
> Other than the Farmers Market, where do you sell your produce?
I sell my seasonal fruits and vegetables to a health store in Sydney. This store places orders with me every week, so that keeps me very busy … along with the two Farmers Markets each month. Every Wednesday, our produce is transported down to the health shop in Sydney.
In a typical week, it takes a couple of days to prepare all the fruits and vegetables for either the store or the markets. Of course this does depend on the size of the order from Sydney.
We pick the fruits and vegetables that are ripe and in season, wash and package all of our produce. Next, we despatch to Sydney, or sell at the market.
In the few days we have left, we do maintenance on the land and plant new crops. If we had another shop like this in Sydney with similar orders, we wouldn’t really need the Farmers Market, but it is a local commitment.
> What is your favourite fruit or vegetable to cook with?
My favourite would be Jerusalem artichokes, as they are healthy and versatile. They are listed as one of the top 12 most nutritious vegetables in the world.
My wife, Delilah does most of the cooking in our house and does a wonderful job using our fruits and vegetables. I love it all! She also turns our fruits into jams, jellies, pickles and relishes, which are sold with our produce at the Farmers Market.
They are all made at the farm with using excess fruits and veggies. Our ranges of jams are called Doveria, meaning ‘from Dover’, and it’s also the name of our farm.
> What other events do you attend?
We go to the Village Fair and the Comboyne Show, which is very popular and we have good sales there from our stalls. We do like to support and commit to the local area.
> What makes your farm different from others?
We are chemical free, but we are not organically or biodynamically certified just yet. The health food shop in Sydney is happy with what we have and what we are providing.
Chemical free produce is what people are looking for, especially because awareness of chemical damage has become a worldwide spread, however it is quite hard to maintain pests and fruit flies naturally.
> You are a member of the Diggers Club. Who started the club and what are the benefits for the members?
The Diggers Club is the largest organic, non-chemical seed company in Australia. If you join the club, you are able to receive non-hybrid plant seeds for a lot less.
They put out catalogues every three months for the members, with seasonal specials and hot tips for growers. The club has been established since 1871. It is a great club to be involved with.
A Current Affair ran a story on the different qualities of juice from a variety of carrots. The carrots vary from purple through to white in colour, including red and orange varieties.
The nutritional benefits from one variety to another can differ immensely, with the purple variety being the richest in many vitamins and antioxidants.
Orange and red carrots found in shops have the lowest phenolic extracts of all the carrot varieties, while these extracts in the purple variety are ten times higher.
I would recommend every farmer have think about turning their farm chemical free and consider joining this amazing fruit, vegetable, seed and flour club.
> Thank you Colin, all the best for 2010.