Monthly Archives: April 2014

Meet a Grower: Mark McCarthy from McLaren Vale Orchards

1382155_243955229089479_1672561626_nTell us about yourself and your produce?
Our produce comes from our two farms.  One here in McLaren Vale and the other at Merbein, up on the river.  I’ve had the Merbein farm for about 12 years and as it is extremely hot there in summer it is ideal for growing all our dried fruits such as figs, sultanas, muscats, and dried flame seedless.  Also pistachios thrive on a hot inland climate. They love extreme heat and cold winter nights but hate humidity.  Here in McLarenVale we bought Ray and Loise Siedels farm 6 years ago.  It has been a massive learning curve with apples, pears cherries and stonefruit, all new to us.  We feel like we have a really good understanding of all our crops here now and Ray and Pete McLean who have been on the farm for 14 years now are both great sources of knowledge.
1383484_251764188308583_1150036110_nWhere do you sell your produce?
99% of our produce is sold at farmers markets or roadside stalls.  We do sell a few fresh figs to foodland romeo group when we have plenty in season.
What do you love about being a local food producer?
The best thing about being a local producer is that you get to see the same familiar faces each week.  It really is like catching up with lots of old friends each week even though many of our customers I don’t know their names. These people are our lifeline and our best critics.  We really enjoy the positive feedback.  It does make us proud of what we do.  Our customers are also our best quality controllers in case a product is getting to the end of its shelf life.
556177_158240284327641_685121727_nWhat challenges do you face as a producer?
Labour costs are a killer. Also seasonal climatic changes are a huge challenge for us. Water costs are always increasing. Competing with cheap imports has an impact although this is much greater when dealing with supermarkets.
Do you or have you sold to the supermarkets and what was your experience?
All my dried fruit used to be sold to big companies before I discovered farmers markets.  I was definitely on the way out until that point as the prices paid are disgusting when you see how much they retail for in supermarkets.  Ten years ago I was being paid $1.30kg for my sultanas and they were retailing for $7.  My currants were being paid even less as I was competeing with Greek currants being dumped in Australia for $600 Tonne.  I do sell some fresh figs to the Romeo foodland group and I have actually found them to be very fair and good to deal with.
62147_161572430661093_2090114948_nHave you purposefully not sold to supermarkets and why? 
I have chosen not to sell to supermarkets other than figs to Foodland, as you can’t survive doing this unless you have a huge property with better economies of scale.  You’re also competing with inferior imported products that were produced in some places for a couple of dollars a day by workers. They are very cheap and you’re expected to cop it sweet and somehow compete with it in a free market.
What is your favourite recipe to make with your produce?
I love eating natural sultanas straight or in my porridge.  Simple as that.  They are sensational.

Slash Your Monthly Food Bill and Grow Your Own Produce

vegetable-garden-2How much would you spend every month on fresh fruit and vegetables? Would it be $200? or $300? For some, it may be even more. Each family is different, depending on how often they choose to eat out and how often they cook their own meals. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables maybe healthy for you and your family… but it may not be quite so healthy for your wallet. So every dollar counts.

What would you say if you were told you could slash your food bill by $2,500 or more every year? Imagine what you could do with all that extra cash in your pocket. If you grow your own fruit and vegetables at home, you could easily save this much and never have to shop at a supermarket again! Starting a vegetable garden may cost you a little with set up costs, but it’s an investment that will last you for a lifetime. Not only do you save money in the long term, but you also benefit by eating the freshest, organic produce you can source conveniently right at your own back door.

Vegetable seeds only cost a few of dollars per packet and are the cheapest way to grow your own vegetables. If you buy non-hybrid seeds you can learn how to collect the seed from your harvest and use it for the next season without buying any more seeds. Vegetable gardeners are often keen to swap seeds and produce with each other, so if you have excess seed of some varieties, you could join a food swap, community garden or permaculture group and barter for the seeds or produce that you might want. Cuttings of perennial herbs also don’t cost a thing, except perhaps a smile and a friendly attitude towards sharing. It’s a great experience in sharing, caring and growing together. It builds a sense of community among gardeners and this community spirit builds a richness in our souls that no money can buy.

pots-2Growing your own vegetables can be easy if you’re given the right instructions initially so you avoid too many failures along the way. When you learn from a group of experienced gardeners you have more success and pleasure. Step by step instructions on how to establish a vegetable garden and how to sow your own seed are available through my online tutorial and you’ll save 20% during our Supermarket Free Month of April. Join the Veggie Club online community on Facebook too and you can have all your questions answered by experienced gardeners as well as being inspired by novice gardeners too.

Happy gardening,

Toni, The Veggie Lady

What alternatives are around you?

cake stall

I make no secret of it, I love my Farmers’ Market! I can get fresh produce straight from the producer: fruit, veggies, fish, meat and I can also get gourmet goodies such as bread, desserts, spices, dips and even blocks of carob. Yes you can spend a lot on all the yummies but if you get yourself organise and know exactly what you want, it can be cheaper. The thing that blew me away when I first started shopping at Farmers’ Markets was how long everything lasted in the fridge. Much of what you buy was picked the day before and came straight to the market, not sitting cold storage for days and transported half way across the country. So even if you did pay a little more, there is less wastage from spoiled food when you didn’t quite get around to using up that broccoli, so you’re still ahead. To find out your nearest Farmers’ Market visit the Farmers’ Market Association.

Depending on where you live you might stumble upon Farmgate Produce, living in a semi rural area, on the school run route there is at least three I can think of. Keep an eye out on your weekend drives, or even look around your neighbourhood, you may stumble upon a little gem. There is a website where you can list your excess produce or search out those around you visit Ripe Near Me.

20140319_140934While you won’t produce much for the month of April, now is a great time for sewing some seeds for winter veggies. Creating your own little market garden has so many benefits, whether you have a balcony or an acreage. Being able to pick your produce for your dinner is so rewarding, you know where it has come, food miles are zero, you know you didn’t use any chemicals on it and kids who had a hand in growing are far more likely to try and enjoy the veggies they are eating. The Veggie Lady is offering Superfreegans a great deal on her online courses to get your green thumb, visit and our Superfreegan hideout on our website.

Go to your suburb or town’s main street shops, check out what is around, these shops are slowly disappearing as people frequent the supermarkets more and more. Often until we look, we barely know they’re there. Also find those shops that might be nearby your usual weeks activities. The best way to stay true to this challenge is keep it easy. Driving half an hour out of your way to go to the city markets might sound like fun but when life gets busy, it might get all too hard. Keep it local, keep it easy.

Even within the large shopping centres, most shoppers only visit one shop, the supermarket. Have a look around and there will usually be a fruit and veg shop, butcher, seafood shop and even a wholefood shop. Explore what there is to offer, you might get a lovely surprise. 

Buying in bulk is a great way of saving money, and saving on packaging too. You can find a huge range of flours, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and everything you need for a pantry stock up! There are some wholefood co-ops around that are based on volunteers and membership to buy in bulk at wholesale rates and pass the savings on their membership. Many of the wholefood shops stock tinned and jarred items as well as fresh goods. Are there any co-ops in your area?

Who gives a crapWhile doing the bulk of your shopping from local sources is best. Some things are tricky to find, or shopping around might be difficult in your situation (lack of transport, rural area, disability) then online stores can be a great solution, especially when delivered straight to your doorstep. The biggest question is “Where do I buy my toilet paper?”, one of our supporters Who Gives a Crap gives us a solution. Visit our superfreegan hideout for more online stores.

Open your eyes in your everyday travels and you may find  somewhere that has exactly what you wanted but never knew existed.