Karen Farrell speaks with
Rada Kinkade from Farmers Patch in Forster about her love of quality food, family and community connectedness.
As with most inhabitants of the Mediterranean, Croatian-born Rada Kinkade shares a love of quality food, family and community-connectedness. Her passion for food was cultivated growing up on Ugljan Island on the Adriatic Coast, living among vineyards and tending to vegetables. Rada’s effervescence is such that she could easily pass for a Greek or Italian mama, most content when sustaining her kin with appetising morsels and homegrown vino.
With a heart a big as a First Prize Easter Show pumpkin, Rada, along with her Australian-born husband, Robert, and son, Brad, have operated Farmers Patch greengrocers for 15 years.
I should confess that I’m a loyal customer of Famers Patch, in part for the reliably fresh variety of locally produced fruit and vegetables and in part for the excellence, par none, in customer service. I might also say that I’m just not feeling the love from multinational supermarkets. I find today’s sophisticated ‘trolleyology’ – a real term (true), for analysing consumer purchasing behaviour – to be none too subtle in its profiteering methodology.
What’s that saying, ‘Think globally, act locally’? The beauty of shopping at a local grocer is the assurance of fresh, seasonal product, which in most instances is produced in a more environmentally aware way. Wherever possible, Farmers Patch stocks Australian owned products and will only import an item if it’s depleted nationally, so that’s a double-positive.
I asked Rada if the soon-to-be-built multinational supermarket at Tuncurry presents a concern for sales. Her response: “No, we never plan to compete with the big supermarkets. We go through so much coffee, tea and sugar, with people dropping in for a cuppa and to shop. We care about our customers and 99% of the time, we know what people want before they put it into their basket. We have lots of loyal customers who feel welcome and part of our small family business.”
You get the feeling the automated self-checkout is a foreign concept to Rada. On interviewing her, FOCUS is pleased to say that sometimes nice guys do come first in business.
Is being a producer a tough job?
Being a farmer is dependent on the weather, which has created so much damage this year. If the weather is bad, it makes it harder to procure products – and the prices go up.
Other than fruit and vegetables, tell us about the types of local producers you support?
Our eggs come from Nabiac and are only one week old when we receive them. We stock organic and gluten-free muesli from Byron Bay, plus pasta and sauces from Port Macquarie and sourdough bread from Green Point and Morpeth.
We also stock special goats cheeses (and soaps), sheep yogurt, home-baked cakes and biscuits and many more products. Most things we sell are produced by people who shop with us, so we’re helping each other out – which is very important. We’ve created a community.
Why purchase locally?
When you buy fresh, local produce every day, the quality is so much better – because it hasn’t been in storage. It tastes better. We get our apples, pears and summer fruits near Armidale, straight from the tree.
New Zealand recently placed a ban on foreign investment of its dairy farms. Do you think we should adopt a similar policy in Australia?
I think we have gone beyond that in this country, because so many farmers have found it hard to cope and sadly sold out to places such as China, Japan, Italy and the Middle East. To my mind, I think the government should help farmers to produce. Often the younger generation won’t take farming on, because they see what their parents have gone through.
What about organic produce?
I find people ask for organic but if it doesn’t look good, they won’t buy it. This year it’s been hard to get organic produce. Instead, we buy locally.
While I can’t say the product is Certified Organic, I can say it’s local and not sprayed. It sometimes might not look good, but gee … it tastes great!
Essentially you’re a retail business, although I understand there’s an element of wholesale also?
We supply to restaurants, clubs, coffee and take-away shops as a wholesaler. Word of mouth has built up our wholesale business, where people come to us for regular and special orders. I calculate that we have 30 or 40 wholesale businesses, and it just keeps growing.
How often do you go to the markets?
We do the major markets on Sunday (for Monday) and Wednesday (for Thursday). Our couriers also deliver fresh produce daily. In summer, Rob goes to the Newcastle markets every day.
When speaking about vegetables, the discussion invariably leads to what constitutes a good tomato – your thoughts?
Supermarket tomatoes are grown for shelf life and are not there to taste good; they’re there to last longer. Most of my tomatoes are locally grown and vine-ripened. That’s why they have so much flavour.
What’s your policy on use-by or surplus fruit and vegetables?
We don’t waste a scrap. We give food to people for their animals or wildlife. The food goes into big bags and is given to customers whom we’ve built a relationship with for their farm. We also give food to approximately 50 different local charities annually, plus we do about 1,100 trays for raffles, charities, clubs and hospitals.
How do you market your business?
We never advertise, but in the last 12 months Mike from Great Lakes FM 101.5 Radio plays a love song dedication each Wednesday at 3pm. He says: “This is a love song from Rob to Rada at Farmers Patch.”