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Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Taking control from soil to sales

A northern Victorian couple are growing almonds, olives and vegetables with a farmgate system that allows them to manage the process from go to whoa.

LAURA GRIFFIN February 17, 2014 9:05am

Maria and Trinity Richards from Aintree Almonds & Apiary


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When Maria and Trinity Richards bought a property in Bearii three decades ago, the only thing growing was a big sugar gum, which inspired the couple to call it Aintree — from the old Scottish word ‘‘ain’’ meaning ‘‘one’’ or ‘‘one’s own’’.

Now there are thousands of trees and other plants on the 18ha farm and two leased blocks including 2000 almond trees, 500 olive trees and a variety of vegetables, all of which are grown organically.

Vertical integration means the Richards retain control over their product.

They process and sell the nuts, fruit and vegetables, as well as the cold spun honey they collect from 60 hives of bees — the insects also pollinate the trees.

People can sample and buy the produce and value-added products — which range from infused honeys, dukkahs, nougats, olive oils and preserves to almond and goat milk soaps — at the Aintree Almonds and Apiary farm gate shop, which is open Monday to Friday.

Because it is a working farm, it is suggested people make appointments.

Mrs Richards said farm gate shops and farmers’ markets — Aintree has a stall at four or more markets every weekend — were great places for producers and consumers to interact.

‘‘We continue to have control over what we harvest and produce,’’ she said.

‘‘You get a sense of achievement when you see your regulars coming up to the stall.

‘‘And customers can know where their food is coming from and that it is fresh.’’

They also run guided farm tours and a bed and breakfast, host functions and sell produce to co-operatives and organic foodstores.

The Richards said being a stand alone orchard made it easier for them to farm organically.

They do some companion planting, fertilise the trees with a fish and sea kelp product through the computerised sprinkler system and plough organic matter into the soil in winter.

The farm has a 35Ml high reliability water share from the Katunga deep lead bore, and during the past four seasons they have been able to draw 70 per cent of this entitlement.

Mrs Richards said the almond and olive trees were quite resilient.

‘‘They have been through drought and through floods,’’ she said.

One of the biggest challenges on the farm is to harvest the crops before birds eat them.

During the almond harvest that starts in late January and runs for two to three weeks, the Richards hire casual staff and get help from the Willing Workers On Organic Farms organisation.

Because the trees are not watered for a month before harvest, the nuts dry out and when the trees are shaken — in this case by hand — the nuts drop to the ground.

Mrs Richards said during the protracted heat, the nuts had dried out quickly.

They started harvesting about 6.15am each day so the day’s work could be completed before the heat kicked in.

The nuts are then collected in bins and cracked as needed to ensure freshness.

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