Andrew and Jill were city slickers seeking change. In eight years they have built a successful organic vegetable business that supplies some of Melbourne's most prestigious restaurants, and there is no looking back.
From the suburbs to green zebras
Andrew Wood and Jill McCalman are living the great Australian farming dream in Tooborac. Having both escaped the Melbourne suburbs with plenty of Australian pioneering spirit, they are now running a booming organic farming business.
Despite encountering two seasons of drought and a season of floods, Glenora Heritage Produce is thriving. Although Andrew and Jill double the planting of more than 1000 varieties of vegetables and herbs each year, they cannot keep up with demand for their produce from Melbourne's top chefs. As the waiting list of suppliers grows, the pair can see only a strong future in organic farming.
The produce is available through selected Melbourne farmers' markets and the farm also supplies directly to 13 prestigious restaurants in Melbourne. In the summer, the eight-acre business sells 500-600 bundles of herbs per week. The property is located less than an hour's drive from Melbourne and Glenora's produce is harvested the day before delivery to guarantee absolute freshness.
Being raised in the suburbs, the journey to managing a farm has been an equally organic process for Andrew and Jill, however their prior skills and experience has all led to this destination.
The pair strongly recommends that any budding producer select their property very carefully as the land plays such a critical role in success. In their case, this involved making sure there is enough water, soil, trees and shelter for production.
'The flavour in our produce comes from the flavour in the country and the flavour base we get from our soil is a bit different here. Peas, beans and asparagus aren't suited to their land but carrots, tomatoes and herbs just love it.'
Andrew and Jill agree passion is a vital component for any budding farmer considering a life on the land. They also reinforce that farming is a demanding lifestyle and in the tough times, like drought and flood, passion has helped them pull through.
'Be passionate about what you do. Don't just do it for the money or because you have got a great business plan. You have got to be passionate because there is no doubt about it, farming is hard work,' said Andrew Wood.
'There are trade-offs you make when moving to the country, but we have made some fantastic friends and it's a very strong community.'
Tooborac has given Andrew and Jill a lifestyle and a freedom the city cannot offer. They also acknowledge that being able to grow their own food around the year is empowering, while also providing significant health benefits that comes naturally with organic produce.
For generations, Australian farmers have known better than most that the land claims us as absolutely as we claim it, and this seems to sing true on the Glenora property where the producers are thriving as much as their organic produce.
About Glenora Heritage Produce
The 'Glenora' property is located 100 kilometres north of Melbourne in Tooborac, which is in Central Victoria. The produce is available through Melbourne farmers' markets including Gasworks, Collingwood, Slow Food Melbourne and Veg Out St Kilda. The farm also supplies directly to 13 prestigious restaurants in Melbourne including Vue de Monde, Cumulus Inc, Cutler & Co, Grossi Florentino and Circa.
Glenora is the smallest land holding in Tooborac. Two of its eight acres are under plantation, with a total of 32 beds. It produces heirloom tomatoes, purple carrots, pardon chillies, turnips, radish, spinach, and Asian greens. In addition, they grow a range of herbs including mint, eight varieties of basil, dill, fenugreek, sorrel and tarragon.
Although they are not certified, Andrew and Jill grow their produce based on organic principles. They endeavour to ensure their all-natural produce is the best in the region. No fertilisers, preservatives, additives or growth assistants are added to the non-hybrid crops, which are hydrated from nearby spring water. Their customers recognise the wholesome goodness and natural taste of their products.
The area is hard granite country, which has a unique mineral profile allowing Glenora to grow non-hybrid, open-pollinated seed and old varieties to maintain variation. More than 1000 tomato plants are grown on the property with a myriad different colours and flavours, ranging from Green Zebra to black and giant beefstake tomatoes.
'We grow heirloom tomatoes which are open pollinated old varieties. The hillbilly tomato is sweet and juicy like a peach and is ideal for salads whereas the Palmwood tomato is a cooking tomato,' said Andrew Wood.
The pair enjoy sharing knowledge with their customers and local suppliers about the different varieties and how to best use them. In Andrew and Jill's experience, personable and face-to-face relationships with customers and additional local growers, remains a critical part of the business.
- Introduction to organic farming
- Victorian Farmers' Markets Association
- The Age: A man, a mission and a road trip
Skills and experience
Jill was a former teacher and Andrew was a publishing editor before they decided to leave the city seeking countryside bliss. They rented in Kyneton for two years before finding a run down, turn of the century weatherboard on serene and former sheep grazing country featuring ruggedly dramatic soaring granite tors. They instantly fell in love with the property and 30 days later it was theirs.
As soon as the hot water was connected, they got to fixing the house and as a mad keen gardener, Andrew's kitchen garden flourished quickly. Meanwhile, Jill gained invaluable hands on experience working at the Sutton Grange Organic Farm that makes Holy Goat cheese.
'We really like running our own business, and to get the farm to where it is today has involved a lot of trial and error. We talk to a lot of people, especially our fellow farmers and do a lot of reading as we are always looking at ways to improve and to make the job easier. You learn as you go and you get smarter at how to do things,' said Jill McCalman.