The combination of a pristine environment coupled with rich, red volcanic soil produces nutritious and abundant produce for market, as Sandra Fishwick explains …
How long have you lived on your property at Mooral Creek?
Red Plateau Organic Produce is owned and managed by business partners Sandra Fishwick and Matthew Hanly.
We’ve been farming the property since 1987 and started living there after we built the farm house in the late ‘80s.
Describe the property – how many acres (or hectares) does it consist of, and what are some of the key geographical features?
The property is 650 m above sea level and is 300 acres. It has deep, rich, red volcanic soil, is partly cleared and is mostly natural hardwood and subtropical rainforest, being an isolated part of the Comboyne Plateau − the only difference is our property is in the Manning shire, which is bounded by the Comboyne Hastings Shire.
We are surrounded by Marsh State Forest, Killabakh Nature Reserve and other organic fruit and nut farms. The farm is certified with AUS-QUAL (certifying body).
We have no chance of contamination from chemical farmers or industrial pollutants, which have the potential to destroy our organic status.
There are natural springs on our property that just pop out of the ground and always seem to flow, even in the drought. Our rainfall is around 2 metres a year.
What are some of the crops you grow on the property, and why did you originally decide to grow them?
The Comboyne area had started to take off, with more avocado orchards being planted. So, after checking out what other farmers were planting, we thought we could give it a go and planted 200 avocado trees as a trial planting.
We started our first planting of 200 macadamia nuts and then started planting avocados a year after that. The first orchards that were planted are over 25 years old. We have around 2,000 avocado trees, 500 citrus trees and around 400 nut trees. It takes around 6 years before you get a decent crop off the avocado trees.
We keep bees to help with the pollination and flower set, and they also produce lovely honey.
In the time before fruit, we market gardened and grew potatoes, garlic, corn, pumpkins and tomatoes.
Red Plateau also has a range of jams, Orange Marmalade and the Orange Ginger Marmalade, which won a bronze award at the 2012 Royal Hobart Fine Food Awards; all the fruit they contain is organic and sourced from the Red Plateau farm.
Why do you feel it’s so important to embrace organic principles on your farm?
We’ve always thought it was important to try to grow our crops and trees with organic principles. In the rows between the trees, we have grass crops like paspalum, clover, Maku lotus − naturally occurring grasses and other things we sow to complement the ‘green manure’ crop, then we cut and mulch the trees with it.
Also, we buy in mulch hay and organic blended fertilisers, as we think it’s a key aspect in maintaining a healthy bio life in the soil.
We have always been organic, and our practices are to keep our land in good condition and try to grow a healthy, great tasting product that doesn’t lead to the degradation of the precious rich soils.
What are some of the processes and tasks you regularly perform on the farm to ensure the quality of your organic produce?
The business is a family business, and our 2 sons work on the farm. Carl (25) who is the manager and Joey (18) both know the principles of organic farm management.
During the year we do a range of maintenance jobs, like fertilising, cutting back and keeping the ever smothering weeds and vines that want to grow over the trees cut down and pulled out. Any fruit that is damaged or for some reason uneatable is then thrown under the tree to break down and become a nutrient in the soil.
Where can people source your produce, or find out more information about your business?
In the season, we pick the fruit with 3 cherry pickers and orchard ladders, and also employ up to 6 men. After it is picked, it is trucked to Coastal Avocados, Stuarts Point organic certified pack house and processed ready to be trucked out to the markets.
The avocados are sold into Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne organic wholesalers and into Coles and Woolworths.
In the past we have had field days and showed people how we grow organically and how to start an orchard. It would be great for more people interested in organic farming to come and look.
It would be good for young people to become interested in farming and learn how to start a garden and grow some fresh food for themselves.
The issues we are facing in the world today are food, security, clean water for drinking and clean food production.
We have always been organic and take care with our farming practices to maintain a healthy farm.
Google Earth is fantastic to have a look at the farm: 320 The Den Road, Mooral Creek 2429; you can see how isolated the farm is and in a wonderful position for organic growing.
People can contact me by email:
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This interview was found in issue 70 of Manning Great Lakes Focus