FOR a couple of tree changers who decided to grow vegetables in a region not known for its horticulture, Glenora Heritage Produce co-operators Andrew Wood and Jill McCalman have done pretty well.
Andrew and Jill are in the process of upgrading from their eight-acre Tooborac property to a 100-acre plot to keep up with demand for their organic vegetables.
Glenora supplies produce to 40 high-end Melbourne restaurants, including Cumulus Inc., the Sofitel and Vue de Monde, Bendigo restaurants Masons of Bendigo and The Dispensary, plus others in Kyneton and Heathcote.
They also attend the four main Melbourne inner city farmers markets every Saturday.
All of this has grown from the dilapidated house surrounded by a barren field they bought 10 years ago.
“It was pretty much a derelict house when we found it,” Andrew, originally from Melbourne, said.
“No one had lived in it properly for four years, so we didn’t have hot water, there was no shower, the rooms didn’t have electricity; it was very basic.
“Around it was basically just a bare paddock with gorgeous conifer trees which we think were planted not long after the house was built in 1905.
“For tree changers it was the right size. We didn’t want to be in town and there was enough space around it so if we wanted to do something we could.
“The house had a beautiful energy in it as soon as we walked in. We just fell in love with it (and) that was it for us.”
Initially they did not have plans to make their living off the land, but after a kitchen vegetable patch flourished, they knew they had the ground to be able to grow beautiful produce.
Eventually the idea that they could create a viable business growing vegetables took hold.
“Really the kitchen garden was where we could discover we could grow amazing stuff.
“Then it was about 18 months later (and I was) looking for a change of career.
“At that point my business partner was working at Holy Goat making cheese and we got the idea of looking at what was happening with farmers’ markets.
“I started thinking that you could make a living on farmers’ markets. I thought we have land and water, I’ll give farming vegetables a go. How hard can it be? Well, it is bloody hard.”
Andrew said the physically demanding nature of the work, coupled with the difficulties in creating a water supply and dealing with the “temper tantrums of mother nature” has made the process a bumpy one at times.
He said not one of the eight years they have been growing produce had been the same.
“We’ve gone from floods to bushfires to drought to occasional good years, we’ve done it all. That’s the hardest aspect of the job.”
Despite the sometimes challenging growing conditions, the business has gone from strength to strength.
What started out as a half acre vegetable patch has now expanded beyond their eight acre plot and into a neighbouring leased five-acre property.
They employ two people full-time and have two drivers who deliver to their restaurants.
“We have now expanded to the point we have completely developed the property,” Andrew said.
“We need a place which is bigger. It’s a nice problem to have.
“It’s pleasing the business has grown to the point where we’re looking at a property of 100 acres.”
Andrew attributes their success to hard work and a dedication to testing and refining their produce until it’s the best it can be.
“We grow organically and I think that is really important.
“I have no doubt in my mind organic produce tastes better than conventional fruit and vege.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error to find out what things work for us. “We try other people’s produce and are always comparing ours with theirs.
“We’ve put a lot of time and effort to learn how to grow the best we can and that’s coming to fruition.”
He said he is “excited and sad” to be leaving the place where Glenora grew and excelled, but is hoping someone else with a similar passion for organic produce takes it over.
“The property is completely developed. It’s not going to be that much of an issue to take over from where we’ve left off.
“They may well end up supplying us because we know the calibre of produce from here. It would be nice to keep that connection. Obviously this is the birthplace of Glenora so yes, we are sad to be selling, but I’m excited at the prospect of the development and the opportunity to expand.” He said he is amazed sometimes to reflect on how successful their business has grown from its humble origins.
“I am absolutely so proud of what we achieved.
“All the locals thought we were mad. The locals said Tooborac is not known for horticultural enterprises, but we proved them wrong with hard work and perseverance.
“We’re in a position now where in difficult years like last year we still produced a remarkable amount of good-quality produce.”