What do two highly accomplished public servants do when they tire of the Canberra city treadmill and decide to move out to the country?
They become The Tomato Guys!
I’ts not too far a stretch when you consider that hothouse production requires carefully managed systems, measurements and controls. Attention to detail, forward planning and risk management skills have all made their way to Greg and Andrew’s flourishing new farm business on the Sapphire Coast of NSW, between Cobargo and Bermagui.
This 160 acres nestled against the Biamanga National Park and with Coolagolite Creek running along one side, is watched over by Mt Gulaga, which is considered a place of local spiritual significance by the local Indigenous people. Andrew and Greg are committed to repairing and preserving the beauty of their piece of the local landscape, and with the help of Regional Innovation Australia (RIA), have instigated practices to help their land hold water, encourage sustainable growth and become resilient in periods of drought.
Importantly, they minimise use of chemical sprays and have instigated an integrated pest management system (IPM) strategy. This includes goats and sheep for weeds in the dam paddock, companion planting in the tunnel houses and weekly introduction of good predatory bugs to eat the white fly which damages the fruit.
As well as the large, state-of-the-art hothouse where most of the commercial crop is produced, there are four tunnels houses for other crops such as basil and kale. At the moment the bulk of the produce grown at Mountain View is sold at local markets and to local stores and cafes, but there are plans for a second and third hothouse to help meet the demand for their luscious, high quality tomatoes.
Even though the setup looks high tech, there is still a lot of manual labour required to produce each crop. Because the environment is kept free of insects, each flower head needs to be brushed with the ‘tickler’ to encourage pollination, and in prolonged periods of damp and humidity, powdery mildew can start to take hold, and the careful removal of all affected parts of each plant is the only way to stop its spread.
Of the thousands of varieties of tomatoes, Greg and Andrew have chosen Conchita, Malinche and Labell, as well as various cherry shapes and colours.
While a career in the Royal Australian Navy and at Australia’s Parliament House seem far removed from this place, Andrew actually grew up at nearby Tathra, where his parents grew vegetables commercially to help feed the local community. His Mother is still there, and still makes the best tomato relish ever apparently, the secret recipe of which is closely guarded. Plans for tomato products such as chutney, passata and pesto are on the agenda at Mountain View, as is a farm shop and holiday stay experience.
Like so many of the wonderful new people moving into our special corner of Australia, Greg and Andrew bring skills, passion and enthusiasm which all help our community to thrive. I don’t know if Canberra misses them, but if they do get homesick for the Nations Capital, they’ve installed a round-about in a juncture on their gravel driveway… a few laps of that and they’ll remember why they left…!