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Pandemic production

Smiling father and adult son in front of a large crate full of farm fresh garlic
Tony and Jay Munns

A COVID lockdown project has bloomed into a productive side hustle for Tony Munns and his six sons; growers of Munns & Sons garlic at the family farm in Cowalla, just inland from Ledge Point.

It wasn’t the immunity-boosting properties of allicin, the main compound found in garlic, nor a fear of vampires that piqued Tony’s interest growing the bulb that has flavoured our food for thousands of years – but rather making the best use of the irrigated plot on his 28 hectare farm north of Gingin.

“I thought, what can we grow on one hectare? I had plenty of water,” recalls Tony.

“Garlic is pretty non-perishable and there’s not much you can do on 60 acres in terms of cropping or grazing.”
As it turns out, it was a very productive use of the land, with the family harvesting over 1200 kilos of garlic in their first year.

“We put in a lot of work during COVID isolation in 2020, digging the trenches and putting the pipeline in,” says middle son Jay, who has partnered with his dad in the business and leads the marketing and sales. It’s a sideline role he slots into his week about roster as a civil engineer for Rio Tinto.

“It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me!” says Jay, “But it’s something Dad has always been thinking about.”
In mid-March the Munns planted 50 kilos of the Italian pink variety of garlic, following with a further 50 kilos of Tasmanian purple in April, not really knowing what to expect in terms of yield.

“We harvested much more than we anticipated – and we’re still figuring out exactly how much,” says Jay, as he continues the laborious task of trimming and cleaning each bulb in preparation for sale.

At just under 1.2 tonne, the Munns’ tiny crop barely registers in the Australian annual garlic production of 300-500 tonnes. Australia doesn’t even rank in the top 10 producers worldwide — China’s massive output of 23.3 million tonnes well and truly overpowers. But it’s fair to say the tiny yield represents something far more valuable for local consumers — particularly now as the ongoing effects of the pandemic threaten to disrupt our food supply chains forever. Provenance and food security have never been more important.

Chinese-grown garlic is easy to spot on the supermarket shelf as it’s gleaming white – literally bleached to ‘perfection’. This garlic, along with other fresh produce regularly imported into Australia, is also sprayed with chemicals like methyl bromide to kill insects and fungus, extend shelf life, and stop it from sprouting (i.e. killing it!). Imported garlic is also much lighter than fresh garlic as it loses moisture over time.

“Some of the chemicals on the Chinese garlic is scary,” adds Tony.

“We’re not organic, but pretty close to it,” he says. “I carefully monitor all the inputs via our fertigation system which allows me to control exactly what goes in.”

“Our goal is to provide local, Aussie grown, fresh and tasty garlic products you can trust in,” says Jay. And even though there’s no doubt their product is superior in quality, the Munns are still up against cheap imported garlic in the marketplace. With a labour-intensive crop like garlic, naturally their product can’t compete on price.

Fortunately the Munns have a secret weapon, in the form of an extra large family! Jay is one of six boys, and while Tony and Jay head the project, the garlic venture is a family affair with everyone pitching in to help.

“We spent about half a day today with six of us in the shed. Trimming and grading is all done by hand. I think we got through about a third!” says Jay. It’s repetitive work, but they’ve embraced the work as a family affair.
“It’s nice to all get together with family, you get to see everyone at the same time!

After this year’s success Tony and Jay have kept the best garlic to plant again next year, hoping to increase their yield even more, but their philosophy is to stay small and genuine.

“We have no plans at this stage to sell to Coles or Woolies. We want to keep it simple and supply local shops,” explains Tony.

Munns and Sons garlic is available locally at the Northern Valleys Locavore Store for the very reasonable price of $24 a kilo. You can follow Munns and Sons on Facebook and Instagram @munnsandsonsgarlic or visit their website www.munnsandsonsfarm.com to learn more.