Diversification is a hot topic in agriculture right now, as more and more farmers move from monocultures to mixed enterprises as a way of increasing their income streams in the wake of corporate farming. Finding themselves in the same boat, the Fowler family of Dandaragan found a rather unusual way of keeping their family farm afloat – by tapping into the trend of bottled water.
When Ken’s father bought the property at the northern end of Gillingarra Rd back in 1955 it was a condition of purchase (CP) that the land be cleared for agricultural purposes.
“Back then if you didn’t clear it, you lost it,” explains Ken. “Now you can’t cut anything down!” CP blocks and soldier settlement schemes were a government drive following WWII to open up marginal land for cropping and stock grazing, and most of the blocks around the area were bought under the agreement.
“It was a while before he could afford to fulfil all the conditions, the land had to be cleared and fenced,” says Ken. Eventually it was done, and in 1976 when Ken was newly married, he and his bride Beth moved to the farm to begin their lives on the land. Never one to sit idle, Ken took up sheep contracting service in the off seasons to supplement their income. But then he had a better idea – one a little less back breaking.
“My husband has always come up with different ideas, and it must have been a weak moment when I said yes to this one!” says Beth.
Ken snapped up the opportunity to purchase a small ice-making business in Moora, rebranding it Nice Ice, and setting up a shed on the property to produce and bag the ice for local pubs and service stations. As new clients trickled in, Ken’s business swelled to service around 50 clients in the region.
“We had all the red tape in order for the ice, so the water was easy enough after that,” said Ken.
“We have a good water source, perfectly potable – it was only high in iron,” explains Beth. “We use reverse osmosis to purify it. We had two choices – the chlorination or UV. I didn’t like the taste of the chlorine, so we went with the UV treatment, even though it was more expensive.”
Unlike spring water, which bubbles to the surface naturally, the water at the Fowler’s farm is sourced from an aquifer, and is pumped via a bore. It is classified as a purified product and marketed under the pretty brand name Rainbow Water (Beth’s brainwave). While not claiming the curative properties that launched mineral water brands like Evian or Perrier in France, or San Pellegrino in Italy, Rainbow Water is simply good, clean water in a convenient package and it has certainly found its niche locally.
“There’s plenty of potential for growth,” says Ken, who is keen to sell the business to someone with the drive to take it to the next level. “We’ve reached an age where we’d like to slow down!” adds Beth.
With 2-3 people working at the plant, including the couple’s daughter Amy, the shed is bubbling with activity, and there’s no danger of the well running dry. “That bore’s got 160 metres of water at least!” confirms Ken.
Rainbow Water is sold in 600 ml, 1 litre and 1.5 litre recyclable bottles, as well as the most sustainable option, the reusable 10 litre container – which has become a staple at mine-sites and workplaces where potable water is difficult to access or unattractive to drink. While most of us enjoy access to pretty good tap water, there’s little doubt that it’s the bottled option with the lowest carbon footprint for those of us in the Northern Valleys region – and certainly the brand to reach for if, heaven forbid, you forget to bring your own bottle from home.