Trevallie Orchard – Angaston

A little over an hour drive away from Adelaide is the Barossa Valley region – a place synonymous with great wine, rolling hills, and endless grapevines. Nestled in this beautiful setting is Trevallie Orchard, a family-owned affair run by a small team for years. We chat with Sheralee Menz, the orchard’s sales and marketing coordinator, and learn about Trevallie’s commitment to serving the community with 100 per cent tree-ripened fruit with real flavour, real passion for tradition and limited food miles.

THE KEY STATS

  • Year established: The official year is uncertain, but the Hill-Smith family knows that their orchard dates back to Barossa’s European settlement – possibly mid to late 1800s.  
  • 📍 Location: Angaston, Barossa Valley.
  • 🏡 Land size: 40 acres in total with 20 acres dedicated for the orchard.
  • 🌱 Soil type: The same Barossa soil that produces world class grapes!
  • 🚜 Energy: Sunlight and water.  Human energy for cutting and drying – it’s a very manual process.
  • 💧 Water: The fruit is largely dry-grown, relying on rainfall.  The orchard has access to a bore for back up water, although that is very salty and they avoid using it. They have just undertaken a collaborative venture with the winery next door to use their wastewater for irrigation, this is the first growing season with that in place.
  • 🥕 Main production: Apricots (fresh and dried), pears (fresh and dried), and fresh apples.
  • ⚡️ Capital: There are always ongoing costs to maintain equipment and keep the orchard in productive condition.
  • 👩‍🌾 Labour: The orchard has two part time permanent employees through the year, and a team of seasonal casuals who work the fruit harvest. They aim to use the same team every year to give continuity in quality control, and the team size varies depending on the demands of the season and the yield.
  • 🤝 Suppliers/ Inputs: Their only external supplies are horticulture supplies, such as fertilisers.
  • 💰 Markets: The business is divided into wholesale and direct-to-customer, with both aspects being managed from the orchard.  They sell to wholesalers with distribution through supermarkets and specialty fruit and veg shops, with branded bags distributed through Foodland stores and other smaller stockists.  Trevallie also sells direct to customers through Farmhouse Direct (online), and has a weekly stall at the Barossa Farmers Market.  
  • 👫 Reach: People travel from all over Australia to visit the Barossa Farmers Market, and they are able to ship dried fruit Australia-wide.  Fresh fruit is subject to quarantine laws at borders, so fresh fruit sales are restricted largely to local customers.

WHAT’S THE PROJECT, IN A NUTSHELL?

In this beautiful part of South Australia, Trevallie Orchard offers a window back in time when the region was abundant with stone fruit, apples and pears.

Trevallie Orchard is a pocket of preserved history and takes pride in producing local and seasonal apricots, pears and apples.

“All of our fruit is grown, cut, dried and packaged onsite,” says Sheralee. 

The orchard makes every effort to epitomise what it means to be local and they feel a deep sense of responsibility when tapping into their heritage.

“We are the keepers of our regional food traditions.”

Today the orchard is owned and managed by the Hill-Smith family, who also own Yalumba Winery, which is next door.

It’s Robert Hill-Smith’s vision to keep the orchard alive and keep the history relevant.

The team looking after day-to-day management, is made up of a few highly skilled and knowledgeable people.

“The orchard is overseen by Yalumba’s viticulture team, using all the world class techniques and knowledge that also produce Yalumba’s world class wine.

“We also have a part-time dedicated orchard supervisor and then I sell the product and promote the brand.

“So all in all, there are really only two dedicated staff members there through the year, but during the fruit season the team swells according to the work,” Sheralee says.

Although the orchard isn’t certified organic, they do grow according to organic principles.

“Yalumba has several certified organic vineyards and wines, so our growing team certainly understands how valuable this philosophy is, and how to do it well,” Sheralee says.

The team at Trevallie Orchard work to support and encourage customers to reconnect with their local food producers, helping people understand the seasonality of produce and the reality that not all fruit comes with a perfect, gleaming exterior. 

Understanding what local and seasonal produce looks like and the costs associated with growing are some of the best ways customers can support their local growers, along with paying a fair price for the produce. 

HOW DID THIS ALL GET STARTED?

Established sometime in the mid-late 1800s, the orchard transports us back to a time when this region was predominately used for fruit growing. 

“In the last 40 years, many Barossa orchards have made way for grapes – which is not automatically a bad thing, because, man the wine is good! But if we don’t make a concerted effort to save pockets of traditional trees, we lose our history,” Sheralee says.

The Hill-Smith Family have a long connection with fruit growing, as Samuel Smith started Yalumba in 1849 as a mixed fruit grower, who also happened to grow wine grapes.

“The winery originally had a canning operation, and extensive orchards of its own, until the 1930’s when it divested those operations and concentrated on wine.  

“Trevallie Orchard shares a boundary with the original winery, and it was purchased by the Hill-Smith family about 15 years ago because of its significance not only to their family, but to the region, and our overall food heritage,” Sheralee says.

Sheralee joined the team at Trevallie Orchard six years ago, guided by her love of food and local produce. 

“I am employed by the orchard, but I grew up in the Riverland. My grandfather was a fruit grower, and I spent my teenage years cutting apricots, working on fruit orchards and in vineyards and cutting sheds, so I have a good understanding of the process,” she says

Before beginning part-time work at the orchard, Sheralee spent many years working in corporate communications and marketing. 

“To now work with food traditions and be immersed in the seasons is a beautiful thing.”

Sheralee advocates for an increased appreciation of traditional food growing and a move away from the large multinational supermarkets that hold a monopoly over the average Australian consumer. 

“The large multinational supermarkets have convinced us that fruit and veg are available all year round, and consumers are wholly disconnected from their food supply. It’s a terrible thing and I want to be part of the solution.”

With Sheralee’s dedication, the orchard continues to deliver products that are steeped in this respect for tradition and good, local food.

ANY TIPS FOR THOSE WANTING TO START SOMETHING SIMILAR?

“A pearl of wisdom is don’t plant an orchard thinking you will get you rich and make lots of money, because it just doesn’t work that way,” Sheralee cautions.

Sheralee guesses people fall in love with the romantic idea of fruit orchards, but aren’t always prepared for the hard work, expensive labour costs and the reality of servicing a customer base, who may not understand what goes into producing top-quality local food, and instead “just want cheap apples with no blemishes”.

If you’re ready to face the facts and still want to start something similar, then Sheralee recommends heading to our local grower associations, such as Apple and Pear Growers Association of South Australia and Summerfruit Australia.

“They’re a wealth of information and support, and are great places to start for anyone considering a commercial operation.

For home orchardists, Sheralee recommends local nurseries and the Diggers Club.

Knowing your produce and product inside out is also of huge value. “Packham Pears don’t ripen evenly!” she says – that was an expensive mistake.

WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE SO FAR?

Like most farms in the region, finances and climate change are two major concerns. 

“Having to rely on external resources is a challenge. Without the support and the cost efficiencies from the parent company, Yalumba Wineries, the orchard would not be viable,” Sheralee says.

“Climate change is another challenge and has already and will continue to have a profound effect on fruit yields across the Barossa.

“But it may also provide the wake-up call that our disconnected consumers need to become less wasteful and more conscious about their consumption of everything,” she says.

Sheralee notes that with an over-reliance on supermarkets, consumers have become increasingly apathetic towards local and seasonal food, posing a colossal threat to small orchards like Trevallie. 

“Customers don’t want to pay for Australian produce. Turkish dried apricots are a fraction of the price, and we hear constant howls of protest that we are ‘too expensive’.

“People have no concept of the costs involved in producing food.  

“Consumers are now so indoctrinated in the ways of cheap milk/meat/bread that it’s going to be difficult to reverse, but if Australian farmers are to have a future, then reverse it we must.”

“I may sound cynical, but unless fruit growers have the critical mass to supply in massive quantities to Woolworths/Coles, using intensive chemical management to reduce labour costs, then it’s a dying industry.

“Small growers are being squeezed out through a race to the bottom in pricing, and customers who only shop on price.  

“But that also makes the work you do even more critical and valuable, because you are challenging people to think about their food, and rather than just blindly buying plastic coated stuff at the supermarket, to really engage with their food source.”

WHAT IS THE BEST PART?

Sheralee says the best part of working within a local business comes from the support of their customers.

“Some people really understand the importance of what we do, and go out of their way to support us by buying our product,” she says.

“Local support is the lifeblood for us. Without local customers we don’t exist.”

Sheralee is incredibly grateful to the customers and is excited to see the flow on effects of empowered consumers, who contribute to a slowly regenerating food system that is becoming increasingly local, healthier, seasonal and resilient. 

“I think this shift would be revolutionary for food producers,” she says.

“To have a largely well informed customer base who are food literate and shop accordingly would literally be a game changer.” 

TELL US ABOUT THE FUTURE  WHAT’S NEXT?

Most of Sheralee’s dreams for the future revolve around better customer education. 

The aim is to continue face-to-face conversations at farmers’ markets, where they can influence and challenge long-held perceptions about the price and availability of fruit.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheralee has noticed interactions with Trevallie’s social media platforms have increased, as many people became acutely aware of food security and wanted to start supporting local.

On Trevallie’s social media, Sheralee tries to constantly reinforce the message about fruit seasonality, and the importance of buying fruit even if it’s a funny shape or has marks.

Sheralee hopes these interactions will continue into the future as people slowly wake up to how their food is produced, where it’s produced and the need to support all our local growers. 

WAYS TO GET IN TOUCH:

Facebook: @TrevallieOrchard 

Instagram: @TrevallieOrchard

Website: www.trevallieorchard.com.au

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