Meet a Grower: Mark McCarthy from McLaren Vale Orchards

By | April 17, 2014
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.

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