‘We had no idea how much we didn’t know’

McIvor Times - - NEWS - By DAVID RAK

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.

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