paddock to plate
THE Coal River Farm is rapidly filling a gap for people wanting to know where their food is from and how it is grown.
Daniel and Melanie Leesong came from executive or legal backgrounds, but had hungered for growing and making their own food. After five years in the planning, they opened the doors of Coal River Farm, on the road to Richmond, about 18 months ago.
The family run business, based on organic principles, has many elements and taps into the paddock-to-fork movement to fulfil a need of people eating what they see grown on the farm.
“Our philosophy is centred around using our own produce wherever we can,” Mr Leesong said.
“Our farm is all about growing and making things that we enjoy eating. People are keen to know where their food is coming from and how it is grown, ripening naturally.”
The scrubby paddocks have come a long way since the Leesongs bought a house on the property 10 years ago.
The farm now has 20,000 strawberry plants, 10,000 raspberry and other cane berries, 30,000 sunflowers each year, 2600 fruit trees including cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears and apples. It is growing 10,000 grapevines and 800 blueberry bushes along with chickens, pet goats and about 30 free-range pigs, mostly Berkshire.
The Araucana chickens produce an interesting coloured egg. Typically, Araucana chickens only lay in the summer and spring months, however they are often quick to return to work after their winter breaks.
A vineyard has been planted for chardonnay and pinot noir, and is expecting its first small vintage next season.
“Each season has its own feel, but what you see you can pick,” Mr Leesong said.
At the height of berry season, families flock to the farm to pick their own berries.
All the produce goes into creating food consumed on site.
“It’s a complex business to start an agricultural enterprise, along with restaurant, cheesemaking and chocolatemaking all in the one location,” Mr Leesong said.
Jamie Cowen manages the farm, which is irrigated with water from the Southeast Irrigation scheme.
“Looking around the farm shows Jamie knows how to make things grow, but without water from the irrigation scheme the whole farm would be impossible,” Mr Leesong said
The farm recycles as much as possible, using coffee grounds in compost, surplus fruit and whey from cheesemaking is used to feed the pigs.
The pigs are raised in a free-range environment.
“We complete the circuit, the hams and pork bellies from the pigs are served in the restaurant and are among our biggest sellers,” Mr Leesong said
Sold under the Coal River Farm label, eight styles of cheese are handmade from local milk.
Cheesemaking, headed by Tim Gadischke, only started 12 months ago. It processes 1200 litres of milk turning that into 150kg of cheese a day. Sales are evenly split between local and interstate markets.
“The cheese manufacturing is highly regulated, but we have been overwhelmed by support for our cheese from Tasmanians and interstate visitors,” Mr Leesong said.
“The cheese is handmade, no mechanising makes it softer on the cheese, also it allows greater attention to the batches.
“I like the idea of a product that is created, touched and loved by people.
Mr Leesong said making chocolate was highly specialised.
“We are so fortunate to have Dimitri Smet, a master chocolatier heralding originally from Belgian and now one of Australia’s finest chocolatiers, working with us and who is passing those skills on to local staff,” he said.
“He makes his delectable treats with love and always an eye for using the farm’s freshest produce.”
Mr Leesong considers chocolate making as highly artistic.
“It’s food technology inspired by art, it’s almost a sculptural medium,” he said.
Farm produce is turned into meals in the restaurant, with the team headed by Sam El’Khoury.
“He takes the best of what our farm grows and combines it with other fresh Tasmanian produce to make healthy and hearty food,” Mr Leesong said.
“A seasonally focused menu is what gets his creative juices flowing.” He said he was lucky to have such a talented team.
“It’s complex, but we love it and best of all we get to eat what we grow and make,” he said.
Coal River Farm is fulfilling a market yearning to learn about food provenance and in the process bridging the rural-urban divide.
Learn more about the farm at www.coalriverfarm.com.au