Diversify or Die: Farming Challenges

Ellen and Justin Fawdon have secured their farm’s future by taking new direction.

Diversify or die is the mantra in the country these days and it’s advice Queensland orchardists Ellen and Justin Fawdon take to heart. After decades of challenges on their farm at Severnlea near Stanthorpe in the Granite Belt, they’ve developed a sideline making fruit-based vinegars and shrubs, bottled under the label Budburst. The Fawdons are hopeful that the diversification will inject a new lease on life to their farming operation.

Budburst

“We’ve learnt the hard way that farming is not for the faint-hearted,” Justin says. “We bought the farm as an established orchard in 1997 and we had a good variety of peaches, apricots and plums, with a picking season that extended from November to April. So at first we thought we were well set up.”

Mother Nature, however, has delivered many farming challenges, from a hail storm that knocked down 95 per cent of the netting and destroyed two-thirds of the crop, the millennium drought, to bushfires and a freak snowstorm that again devastated the orchard.

Justin and Ellen have long experience in the fruit industry. They met as fruit pickers in Bowen in north Queensland. Justin had just finished school and headed north for adventure when he met Ellen, who grew up in the Netherlands and was visiting friends she had met while on a kibbutz in Israel. The couple travelled Australia picking fruit for four years before their family suggested they invest in their own orchard.

Severnlea QLD

Justin’s father Tony had a varied career on sheep and cattle properties with detours into mining exploration, while his mother, Rosemary, also had farm experience. His sister is Simone Jelley, who grows edible flowers under the label Pretty Produce and was our cover story in the August/September 2021 issue of Australian Country. At various times, all family members have been involved in their Stanthorpe orchard, helping out during the busy summer periods. Ellen and Justin say the farm has given their children a great place to grow up, on the outskirts of a thriving regional town, but sufficiently removed to afford the freedoms of a country upbringing.

Ellen and Justin Fawdon's Farm

Located at an elevation of 870 metres, the farm has fertile soils, good, clean water, natural drainage through the valley and an abundance of birds and insects to pollinate the crop. Thanks to the Fawdons’ efforts in regenerative agriculture, the land’s biodiversity is increasing and the region’s four distinct seasons ensure great variance in fruit flavour.

Nonetheless, after almost two decades of battling the elements, Ellen and Justin admit they probably would have sold the orchard if they could have. However, after Tony had a chance encounter with an old friend at a mining conference, they took on a silent partner, whose investment gave them the breathing space to look at the business with fresh eyes.

“We decided to ditch the late-harvest trees as we were never going to win the battle against the bugs without using fungicides,” Ellen explains. “We culled the orchard back to just black amber plums and golden apricots. We also looked at growing vegetables as well as lavender and rosemary for essential oil.”

Severnlea Farm QLD

After experimenting with the oils and the notion of making stone-fruit-based wine, Ellen drew on her Dutch heritage and hit on the notion of fruit-infused vinegars. The Fawdons use whole fruit, which they leave on the trees until fully ripe, thus ensuring the fruit’s natural sugars are completely developed. The fruit is infused in vinegar for at least 20 weeks before being extracted, and the resulting “liquid gold” is filtered and bottled.

They sell their vinegar at produce markets in south-east Queensland and are finding most people who taste their intensely fruity vinegars become repeat customers. “The vinegars elevate salad dressings to the next level,” Ellen says. “We’ve been lucky that our product has been picked up on by several hatted Brisbane chefs, so word is gradually spreading about our product.”

The growing popularity of shrubs, or fruit-flavoured syrups, in both cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, is also working in the Fawdons favour. “We might have done things differently if we’d known what was in front of us,” Justin admits. “But now it finally feels like we’re securing a future.”

Plum quick-pickled onions

Plum quick-pickled onions

A simple pickle recipe with no canning equipment or methods needed that’s great for sandwiches, tacos, salads and more. Just combine and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can add more sliced onion over time or when all eaten to make your pickling liquid go further.

2 large red onions, sliced
very thinly
½ cup water (plus extra
boiled water for blanching)

½ cup Budburst Black Plum Infused Vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 teaspoon peppercorns
½ teaspoon salt

Blanch onions under boiling water. Combine all pickling liquid/brine ingredients in a bowl, stirring so that the sugar and salt dissolve. Place onion slices in a jar. Pour vinegar mixture over and push onions down so all submerged. Cover and leave to sit in fridge for at least 1 hour before enjoying.

Walnut and goat’s-cheese salad

Walnut and goat’s-cheese salad

2 cups salad greens (baby spinach, rocket, lettuce)
⅓ cup walnut pieces
½ cup small heirloom tomatoes, halved
100g goat’s cheese, crumbled
Edible flowers, to decorate
Apricot vinaigrette
2 tablespoons Budburst Golden Apricot
Infused Vinegar
3.5 tablespoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon minced
red onion
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
or pink salt
Cracked black pepper, to taste

Place salad leaves on serving plate, sprinkle with walnuts, tomatoes and goat’s cheese. To make apricot vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a jar and shake well. Decorate the salad with flowers and serve with vinaigrette.

By Kirsty McKenzie, photography Simone Jelley

For more information visit Budburst Australia

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