The Australian Dietary Guidelines issued earlier this year reinforce the importance of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Specifically, a daily intake of varied fruit and plenty of vegetables is recommended – using type and colour as a guide to variety.
In a country where it can feel like our fruits and vegetables grow all year round, it’s important to keep in mind that produce is seasonal and that there are growers and farmers behind what we find on our supermarket and greengrocer shelves.
Chatting to the Orchard Manager at Montague Fresh in Victoria’s Narre Warren North, things are still very much a hands-on operation with an influx of seasonal workers coming in during harvest to hand-pick apples.
“Hand-picking and hand-grading is still the best system to maximise yield,” explains Rod Taylor, who has been Montague’s Orchard Manager for 27 years. Before that his father was with the company for 50 years.
Some of the fruit trees at Montague Fresh have been around since 1990, and are cared for, pruned and some manipulated to grow in a certain shape to maximise growth and make it easier to pick. In 2003, the growers added a net system, a vast string cover encasing the orchard to help prevent hail damage, which destroys top-grade fruit, protects apples from sunburn and stops peckish bats and birds swooping down and having a feast.
Montague Fresh supplies to major Australian retailers and has a speedy turnout from orchard to shelf.
“From the moment they’re picked, fruit can be in store within 48 hours, including picking, grading, cleaning, sorting and transport,” says Rod.
From its 120,000 trees, the family-run orchard produces high quality Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Royal Gala varieties. During our visit, the older trees were heavy with blush Pink Lady apples and pickers were up and down ladders expertly filling wooden crates with the delicious fruit.
Freni and Doria
Bunch-line vegetables are the focus at Freni and Doria, a family-run farm in Devon Meadows, Victoria. Farm Manager Jonathan and an expanding team grow carrots, spring onions, radishes, silverbeet, beetroot and loads more for major Australian retailers, greengrocers and markets on the property’s 260 acres.
Discussing the impact of market trends on the type of products the farm produces, Jonathan describes just how powerful a show like MasterChef is in influencing what they grow.
“When the contestants start using baby beets or purple carrots, we’ll start pulling up our beetroot earlier to meet the demand of shoppers or start planting a different colour variety of carrots.”
A family business that has been around for over 50 years, Freni and Doria grow the same produce all year round, something their line of farming allows. With a turnaround of 6-8 weeks in warmer weather and 8-10 weeks in the cooler seasons, they continually deliver products and come up with methods to ensure a constant supply.
“Products like silverbeet we plant as a seedling. They’re grown in a hot house and then put into the ground so they grow faster and are less likely to get damaged in heavy rain or wind.”
Dealing with major retailers means meeting very specific size and colour grades to ensure uniformity. Produce that doesn’t match these specific standards gets sold to local greengrocers, farmers markets or used for canning.
With the region’s sandy soil suiting their bunch-line vegetables, Jonathan explains how farmers have worked out pretty quickly what grows best where.
“It’s why you drive through some places and see farm after farm growing asparagus or areas that are only producing lettuces.”
If you’re not doing so already, let these local growers be your motivation for incorporating more fresh fruit and locally-grown vegetables into your diet.
To have fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to you from the farm, visit aussiefarmers.com.au.