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A little bit of everything

Tony and Jenny Maddern

Tony and Jenny Maddern first appeared in the Northern Valleys News in early 2014, in a cover story focusing on the fruitful Kensington Pride mango crop grown on their Moondah property, Avalon Farm. While the 4500 mango trees are still a headline act, Tony and Jenny are reaping the benefits of diversifying their produce and are now abundant producers of avocados, passionfruit, citrus and the most recent addition, rhubarb!

“We think with a little farm like ours, if you grow a little bit of a lot of things you can survive,” explains Jenny.

Cultivating a rhubarb crop came after consulting with staff at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store to determine what was in demand, that wasn’t being grown locally. In Western Australia, only a small amount of rhubarb is grown commercially for the domestic market, mainly in the Wanneroo area. Local production is lower in the cooler months and imports from Queensland supply the market from April to October.

“It took us a while to get going and it’s only a small crop to test the waters, but I have sold all the rhubarb produced this year, through the Locavore Store,” said Jenny.

Sales direct through the farm gate are also integral to keeping Avalon Farm a manageable enterprise and they are ready for a stream of visitors from September onwards when fruit from their 150 avocado trees will be ready for sale.

“Most of our avocado crop gets sold from the farm gate and the entire crop of mangoes this year sold from the farm gate,” said Jenny.

“The beauty of selling from the farm is that we can pack the run of the orchard — fruit of different characteristics in the one box — everything gets used.”

“Selling through the Perth markets is not all that beneficial,” adds Tony. “If you send it to Perth markets, everything gets sorted into three or four grades and you can’t have any blemishes etc. You end up really only packing 20% of your fruit as first grade fruit — which is where you get your good price — and the rest is seconds or thirds, where they are paying below production costs, once the fees and charges are added.”

Although the southern mango season has been light on for the previous couple of years, with no excess to send to market, Jenny maximises their opportunities for a decent sale by applying her grading skills, which she uses in her job at Northern Valleys Packers.

“If we are sending into the markets, I do a grade here before it goes in,” she explains. “We try and sell only the perfect fruit into the market so we’re not getting it downgraded, and I can then sell what we take out. That’s the only way you can make any money out of it, if the prices are reasonable.”

The popularity of avocados shows no signs of slowing down, despite the ubiquitous fruit shouldering the blame for millennials being unable to enter the real estate market. Unfortunately, the inevitable consequence of such popularity is the need stockists feel to have produce available year-round, from wherever they can source it. This is despite clear negative impacts, from a large carbon footprint in regards to transportation, to degradation in taste and nutritional content of the fruit. Thanks to Avalon Farm, you can have guilt-free early access to the avocado season.

“We harvest September and October, whereas south of Perth they are mainly harvesting from Christmas onwards,” says Tony. “We only grow Hass — it’s the market favourite — and we pick according to demand, so they are fresh off the tree.”

“If you are buying Hass avocados in the supermarkets around the same time that we are selling ours, you’re likely buying ones from New Zealand,” adds Jenny.

Tony and Jenny’s innovative production plan, driven by local demand, is further reinforcement of the benefits of supporting local producers.

“The trick now is to find a couple of other crops to fill in the gaps!” says Jenny.

You can follow Avalon Farm on Facebook at @Avalonfarmgingin to keep up to date with upcoming farm gate sales, or check out what they have available at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store via www.nvls.com.au.