pad­dock to plate

Tasmanian Country - - FRONT PAGE - ROGER HAN­SON

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

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