‘We had no idea how much we didn’t know’
MANY would argue that Redesdale’s Hilary and Mark Jankelson were completely nuts for ditching city life to begin walnut farming in Central Victoria.
With no experience and no formal training, Hilary and a slightly sceptical Mark decided they wanted to do something on the land.
After extensive industry research, the couple passed on the ever-popular grape and olive markets and instead focused on the underserved local walnut market.
They bought a property in Redesdale in 2000, converted it from a sheep farm and planted 6,000 trees to establish Boonderoo Walnuts.
Hilary was the prime mover in the endeavour, orchestrating the sinking of bores, the installation of the irrigation infrastructure and the growing of trees, many from seed.
She subsequently identified and purchased another walnut orchard with 4,000 trees in the Murray Valley as a going concern.
For more than 13 years, until Mark finished full-time work, Hilary managed the entire business including operating all the harvesting machinery and travelling the 220km between the two orchards — sometimes twice per week — to supervise operations and harvesting.
“As a woman in a male-dominated industry it’s been tough at times for Hilary but her resilience, respect for others and excellent communication skills have enabled her to succeed,” Mark said.
“She has used this ability to develop and perfect the many artisan products we now sell at farmers’ markets and to restaurants and retail outlets.’’
Hilary admits the couple were ignorant to the challenges and nuances of walnut farming.
“We had no idea how much we didn’t know, which is probably a good thing in hindsight,” she said.
“If we knew how tough it would be we probably would have never got started.”
Hilary and Mark identified the untapped market outside of selling traditional walnuts and in 2013, they expanded their product line.
“Our research indicated people were not responding to the traditional ‘eat walnuts because they're great for your health’ message,” Mark said.
“We found that people were more likely to eat walnuts as part of something else instead of just by themselves.
‘‘We started making coated walnuts and other products including spiced walnuts and a hand-crafted walnut and date roulade.”
And after taking their unique products to farmers’ markets far and wide, the couple was keen to find ways to expand to consumers who don’t frequent the farmers’ market scene.
“We realised there were a lot of people who wanted to buy fresh, local produce but couldn’t make it or didn’t want to go to farmers’ markets,” Hilary said.
“The big players dominate the supermarkets so it isn’t worth us trying to get in here.
“But online sales offer a way to get local produce to people outside farmers’ markets.”
Mark and Hilary were one of the first suppliers to get involved with MegaFresh, an online marketplace and fulfilment service for food and groceries.
The service allows farmers and food producers to sell direct to consumers with very little effort.
MegaFresh looks similar to the current online services offered by the major supermarkets, but all the products are listed by farmers who also set their own retail price.
It aims to be a one-stop-shop for farmers as it’s also a fulfilment service that stores, packs and delivers the products on behalf of the sellers.
The consumer can purchase multiple products from a variety of farmers on the platform in one transaction and have it delivered at no cost.
“Freight is a killer when we sell from our website,” Mark said.
“The cost to the customer increases significantly to cover the postage and it discourages people from buying from small suppliers like us.
“While it’s still early days, MegaFresh is an exciting concept and it solves the postage problem for us.
“The consumer can buy our products and not be slugged with any additional expenses.”
MegaFresh is calling out to all farmers and food producers Australia-wide to list their products on the platform. For more information, visit www.megafresh.co
For more information or to check out the range at Boonderoo Walnuts, visit www.boonderoo.com.au
Boonderoo Walnuts owners Hilary and Mark Jankelson.