Greenhill Orchard is the only full-time fruit producer left in the New England.
Being the last full-time grower in the New England region, Warren Yeomans is confident this sixth-generation family orchard will continue to supply the local market for many years to come.
A rarity to find such an original heritage working property, ‘Greenhill Orchard’ was established by Warren’s ancestors in 1865, seeing the Yeomans family experience 151 years of rewards and challenges associated with the production and supply of fruit.
Situated on the Great Dividing Range between Uralla and Armidale, the rich soil of the 140-hectare property maintains 6,000 fruit trees, comprising mainly apples, pears and stone fruits. The distinct seasons of New England offer ideal growing conditions for cool-climate fruits.
“I enjoy the cool climate, and I enjoy the winter. There’s a crispness and certain things about the cold that are unique, as opposed to the hot and dry,” observes Warren.
Luscious summer stone fruits start the harvesting season in December with cherries, followed by peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums in January. Pear varieties, including Nashi, Packham, Beurre Bosc, Howell and Red D-Anjou, are harvested in February along with early apples. Then the main harvest of apples begins and continues until around ANZAC Day at the end of April. The three main apple varieties grown are Fuji, Granny Smith and Delicious, with a smaller number of Golden Delicious, Gala and Pink Lady grown as well.
In addition to the fruit, 500 merino sheep are grown on the property for wool production. “Fruit is the labour component, so the sheep are a simpler system to manage the rest of the property that isn’t suited to fruit production,” says Warren.
Challenges with pests and disease, weather and the market are nothing new to farmers, so the ability to solve the many problems that have come their way and continue to thrive for over a century and a half of farming is a credit to the Yeomans family.
“There are always new issues cropping up. In the last ten years there have been five new pests and diseases to deal with,” says Warren. “Thanks to the internet today, information is easily accessible to help deal with these challenges.”
The appearance of the fruit is another big issue in the market these days, with hail being the biggest challenge from a weather perspective as it marks the fruit’s skin. Hail netting has been installed over a large section of apple trees, which Warren sees as an investment and insurance policy to ensure the production of good-quality, high-grade fruit. The atmosphere in the orchard is pleasant. One can tell the seasonal workers are enjoying the experience on this farm, evident in the laughter and relaxed conversation with Warren.
“With fruit growing, there is a lot of work involved, but there is a lot of work being done to see how we can make better use of the labour. This is not only in the sense of being more productive but also focusing on making it a more enjoyable and safer experience for pickers. We are trying to simplify that process so it’s a better all-round outcome for everybody.”
With the increasing focus on local and homegrown food, Greenhill Orchard offers a year-round farmgate experience, giving consumers the opportunity to source fruit directly from the grower. Visitors are encouraged to reconnect with the land and the seasons.
“People are more interested in where their food is coming from,” observes Warren. “The green grocer used to be the means of communication, but as more shopping is done in the supermarket, the fruit shop has become more challenged. Fresh food markets and direct sales have become an emerging area that has shortened the line between the consumer and grower.”
“People are also interested in how to grow fruit and I don’t mind sharing that information as fewer and fewer people are aware of what’s involved in producing fruit and so they experience the highs and lows of doing that in their own backyard.”
As Armidale is a university city there are many residents from different cultures, some of which are used to buying direct from the grower. Warren enjoys the interaction with the international students as well. Greenhill Orchard is committed to growing high-quality, tasty fruit with their main focus on the local market. This includes not only farmgate sales, but also supplying vendors who sell fruit at the local Armidale markets. Distribution also includes a number of local fruit shops and smaller supermarkets across the region spanning from Armidale to Coffs Harbour, and Taree to Tamworth.
As with any fruit grower, Warren loves harvest time and seeing the fruit that has been produced. “It’s a satisfying reminder and culmination of the efforts for the last 12 months, and then we start all over again!”
STORY & PHOTOS Mel Arnott