Lyn Withers lives on a farm on the banks of the Hastings River, surrounded by green as far as the eye can see. She tends more than 400 citrus trees and other fruit species, and crops of aromatic herbs.
I turned my back on the hectic pace of Sydney and the IT world 16 years ago, looking for the good life and a calmer existence, and settled here. The Company Farm is about 20 acres, 13km west of Wauchope. My house has a beautiful wide open outlook from inside and from a veranda out over undulating country running down to a wide bend in the river. It’s a truly peaceful oasis.
There are rows of citrus trees along both sides of the drive from the gate down to the house and over the years I’ve developed wonderful Valencia, navel and blood oranges, Meyer and Eureka lemons, Tahitian and Kaffir limes, mandarins, tangelos, grapefruit and cumquats.
We started out growing produce for the Sydney market. We supplied Rockpool, Sailors Thai, Longrain and four other restaurants and two city fruit and vegetable wholesalers. I used to drive the produce down twice a week but ultimately the demand for it, and the demand on my time, was so great I seemed to have swapped one rat race for another!
So we started looking to the local market and other ways of making a living from the land. We have other fruit trees: figs, plums, pears, nectarines, tropical apple, guava, pomegranate, lychee, coffee and jaboticaba – a Brazilian grape – and we have black mulberries and white mulberries … although the birds and the bats usually get prime pick of those!
The aim’s been to establish the farm to supply the local market with a great variety of fruit. Along the way we started up cooking classes, about three years ago, introduced our own brand of preserves, and now I’ve created some intimate accommodation so guests from far away who attend cooking classes can have an overnight farm stay in the wonderful clean environment here. I’ve set up a terrific little boules court nearby and they enjoy a game in the evenings, along with a glass of local wine.
I’m very big on promoting local produce, not just my own. I’m a keen supporter of nearby producers such as Cassegrain Winery and Ricardoes Tomatoes and I work in with The Other Chef who produce a great range of products such as a gold-medal quince paste and lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil. I’m also on a voluntary food and tourism committee. We’ve spent 18 months devising a promotional program, Journey of Flavour; we hope it’ll boost our fine fresh local foods not only around the district but also more widely, at food fairs in Sydney, for example.
Life on the farm is fairly busy all the same; I’m kept on the run seven days looking after things. I have three lively dogs, Kellie, a kelpie, Benjamin, a Jack Russell, and Tilly, a border collie. They yelp like crazy when they see me heading off to town in the Range Rover and are all over me when I get back.
I’m very proud of my new line of preserved lemons and three-citrus marmalade launched 10 months ago that have been enthusiastically picked up around Port Macquarie; people say they love the flavours, which is very satisfying – and we supply Kaffir lime leaves to Herbie’s Spices, the leaders in herbs and spices. We send the choicest leaves off to Herbie’s spicery on the Central Coast. I also grow parsley, two kinds of basil, coriander, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, lemon grass and galangal – so our cooking classes have the best herbs at their disposal in the kitchen!
My kitchen is a chef’s dream: it has a huge curved wall entirely of plate glass that looks out over the home paddock to the river, a walk-in pantry with probably 300 different kinds of ingredients, a massive stainless steel cool larder, a big cooking area with gas burners, prep area and so on, as well as a long bench where students sit on stools to observe the cooking classes and then join in preparing dishes. We’ve a library of several hundred cookbooks. When lessons are done, we take the food into the dining room next door or out onto the veranda and enjoy it – once again, with a nice glass of wine.
All sorts of people come to lessons: corporate groups, families for celebrations, women’s and men’s groups. I love hosting lessons, they’re fun, and we have top Sydney chefs coming here who specialise in various ethnic, styles or types of cooking, like Thai, vegetarian or seafood for instance, who give great classes on the latest trends in the individual cuisines and really stimulate the students’ appetites and enthusiasm to take new skills back home.