Treechange leads to a Beech­worth world first

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE - BY RHYLL McCOR­MACK rm­c­cor­mack@ne­me­

PRE­CAR­I­OUSLY bal­anc­ing on the top of a lad­der, Gamila MacRury pauses mid­way through pick­ing olives.

It is har­vest time – she hopes to fer­ment more than 2000 ki­los this sea­son - and her ring­ing phone is a dis­trac­tion.

It is a call from the North East Farmer, and, tuck­ing the phone into her shoul­der, Gamila be­gins to talk – re­count­ing her story, pick­ing olives as she goes.

“You need to buy land in the coun­try, that was the ad­vice my mother al­ways gave,” Gamila ex­plains.

“‘You’ll see an­other two re­ces­sions in your life’ – so I took her word, and here I am; on an­nual leave from one job to har­vest for an­other.”

Gamila is re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing the first ever saf­fron-in-al­co­hol extract in Aus­tralia – a prod­uct she hopes to ex­port to the world.

But back in the be­gin­ning – she ex­plains this without paus­ing for breath, the sound of olives gen­tly drop­ping into her bucket – Gamila found a 12-acre plot in Beech­worth.

In­spect­ing it on a Satur­day, she owned the block by the fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day. That was nine years ago. Since then, she has planted 600 olive trees and de­vel­oped a saf­fron crop –

The re­ally hard thing is ac­tu­ally sell­ing saf­fron. You’re com­pet­ing with im­ports that are $6-18 per gram, and that’s go­ing against my prod­uct which is about $240 a gram. GAMILA MACRURY, WHO HAS DE­VEL­OPED A WORLD­FIRST SAF­FRON EXTRACT.

sown, grown, di­vided and re-planted each year – from an ini­tial 800 corms (bulbs) to 50,000.

“It’s been a long road – last year was my first real com­mer­cial success; so yes, it has been hard,” she said.

Gamila is re­fresh­ingly hon­est when it comes to re-count­ing her farm­ing jour­ney.

Although she is al­ways up-beat, talk­ing about the beau­ti­ful High Coun­try haven she has found and the re­al­i­sa­tion of a dream, she is also re­al­is­tic about the sit­u­a­tion.

“I had no real knowl­edge about growing saf­fron when I bought this place,” she ex­plains.

“If I had my time over, I’d think long and hard about do­ing it the same.”

What Gamila is talk­ing about is the back-break­ing work of pro­duc­ing saf­fron for the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Touted as the next fad-food some years ago, a flood of hobby pro­duc­ers re­sulted in an over­sup­ply – and Gamila was left won­der­ing if her 50,000 plants would ever make it to the table.

“The re­ally hard thing is ac­tu­ally sell­ing saf­fron,” she said.

“You’re com­pet­ing with im­ports that are $6-18 per gram, and that’s go­ing against my prod­uct which is about $240 a gram.”

Six months ago, Gamila pi­o­neered her own so­lu­tion.

“Saf­fron is a flavour en­hancer, not just a col­orant,” she said.

“I’ve de­vel­oped an extract – pre-ex­tracted from strands and put into a high al­co­hol so­lu­tion to lock the won­der­ful aroma in.”

In the bot­tle, saf­fron essence ap­peals to a broader range of buy­ers.

“It gives them the big­gest bang for their saf­fron buck,” Gamila said.

It has been, she ex­plained, a game changer.

“I was won­der­ing what I was go­ing to do – there were days when I just couldn’t see the ef­fort re­sult­ing in a re­ward.

“I love the crop, but I needed to be re­al­is­tic.”

In just six short months, Gamila is now so con­fi­dent she can see her­self be­ing a saf­fron buyer as well as a pro­ducer.

She might even give up her day job.

“I’m a com­puter sys­tem en­gi­neer by trade – I work five days a week in Mel­bourne,” she said. “The Hume is my friend.” Af­ter launch­ing the extract, Gamila was vis­ited by chefs from MoVida – Aus­tralia’s premier Span­ish restau­rant.

Film­ing a food­ies seg­ment as part of the High Coun­try Har­vest, all were im­pressed with the essence ease and taste.

Now, Gamila is hop­ing her extract will find it­self in restau­rants across the coun­try, and maybe even the world.

“I can see light at the end of the tun­nel, which is a bit of a re­lief,” she said.

Still pick­ing olives, 10 min­utes into the con­ver­sa­tion, Gamila shifts her weight from one foot to the other – the creak­ing lad­der ev­i­dence of the move­ment.

“I look around, right now, and it’s amazing how much I’ve done,” she says, tem­po­rar­ily drop­ping the phone to sur­vey the land­scape.

“But I can also see that 12 acres is not much land, even for in­ten­sive hor­ti­cul­ture.

“I locked my­self into need­ing to find a mar­ket that was niche driven and ex­pen­sive – I don’t re­gret it, but I can see the prob­lems.”

Along with saf­fron, Gamila also grows table olives.

“I planted olives specif­i­cally with the in­ten­tion of pro­duc­ing tra­di­tional wild fer­mented olives for the table,” she said.

“Where plant­ing saf­fron gives you a re­ward in six weeks, olives take six years to start fruit­ing and 10 years to ma­ture - which means that by 2019 I should have just about got my head around this whole farm­ing gig.”

Be­tween the two crops, and a 40- hour week in Mel­bourne, life is hec­tic – but the re­sults are be­gin­ning to speak for them­selves.

Be­fore hang­ing up the phone, Gamila talks about the rest of her day – of need­ing to pick an­other 100 ki­los of olives, of the weed­ing that must be done, the plants that must be wa­tered and the fences that must be checked.

“It only took me a week to com­mit to this farm – I’ve got a life­time to per­fect it – it’s about en­joy­ing the jour­ney along the way.”

If you would like more in­for­ma­tion on Gamila, her busi­ness or where you can pur­chase her saf­fron extract, go to www.gamila.

PHOTO: Coral Cook­sley

HIGH GROWTH: Gamila MacRury at her Beech­worth prop­erty has planted 600 olive trees and de­vel­oped a saf­fron crop – sown, grown, di­vided and re-planted each year – from an ini­tial 800 corms (bulbs) to 50,000.

PRE­CIOUS RE­SOURCE: Gamila MacRury with the pre­cious saf­fron crop from which she makes her unique extract. PHOTO: Coral Cook­sley

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