Apricots and peaches aren’t the only thing growing in the Riverland. As Michael Roy of Roy Farms explains, fostering a community between South Australian growers and consumers is just as important.
Roy’s family have been producing fruit in South Australia for six generations, originally supplying local markets as well as dried fruit to England. “We’ve been drying fruit since 1850,” he says. “My family first moved over from Hamburg, when the government paid the sea captains to bring farmers over.”
Eventually they found their way to the Riverland, beginning an operation that now sees Roy and his team grow and dry plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, quinces and more. “We’ve been here since the turn of the century,” he says. “We’ve been drying fruit in Renmark ever since.”
But by the 21st century the family began to feel the squeeze of globalisation, as major distributors were taken over by overseas corporations who opted to rely more on imported fruit for products that were still badged as Australian.
In turn, Roy looked towards South Australia’s community, with an emphasis on building connections with locally owned stockists around the state and country. “I’ve been very impressed with the support of the community in Australia, that they’re willing to support locally grown product with local labour,” he says of their product, which now occupies the premium, high end of the fruit market.
“We’re picking the fruit at optimum quality, [depending on] its ripeness on the tree. It’s all hand labour – you cannot machine produce this fruit – the reason to get fruit at the optimum quality is to maximise vitamins and antioxidants and flavour into a product.”
Roy has built a network of close to 300 independent stores around Australia. “We’re trying to support independent stores and fresh fruit stores in South Australia; we’re trying to give a point of difference.”
The rise of fast and processed foods also caused the industry to take a hit, as consumers became more removed from the source and process behind what’s on their plate. But, as a shift towards conscious consumption becomes more popular – dried fruit, Roy points out, is both gluten free and vegetarian – the time is ripe for producers and consumers to rebuild that connection.
It’s something Roy is doing firsthand every weekend, when he hits the road to set up stalls at farmers’ markets around the state. “Markets are very important for tastings and meeting the grower as well, I’ve been doing that for four years, quite solidly every weekend. People have forgotten where it all comes from, and why we need that part of our diet.”
With a year-round workforce of 25 that doubles during picking, Roy has worked hard to make sure their business can survive whatever else is thrown at it. “You have to keep the growers sustainable, to make ends meet,” he says. “It’s hard work out here, in 45 degree heat, the product doesn’t come easy.
“But as a grower we’re supporting local labour, and supporting other businesses in South Australia.”
And, as a consumer, our choices at the checkout are making a difference to local producers like Roy.
I Choose SA is an initiative of Brand South Australia.
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