Ever dreamed of a tree change?
Liz and Rob are living proof that following your passions and pursuing a business that aligns with your values can bring both sustainability and happiness.
Wrapping up life as a project officer and an electrical engineer respectively, Liz and Rob looked for something new. They found themselves in a mobile home in South Australia, far from their native Queensland. Hungry for a challenge, they threw themselves into agricultural life.
As told to Australia Post 2015
Rob explains: “We were travelling around Australia and passing through the South East of South Australia following the grain and grape harvest trail. I drove a harvester and Liz drove a tractor. We parked up on a farm and I stumbled across a sign in the real estate window in town one day. Land down here is so cheap. We stuck our neck out and bought this little bit of land. We drove our mobile home right onto it and got going. Everyone thought we had rocks in our heads.”
The ‘little bit of land’ they bought is just an acre, and so they needed to find a high value crop. Rob was inspired to try organic farming by his grandmother, who always grew her own food and taught him the value of gardening without using chemicals. Plus, they’d seen a gap in the market - you couldn’t buy fresh Australian garlic year round.
They quickly realised that organic farming means labour. It took the pair three years to turn their initial 40 kilos of garlic stock into a full crop, as they replanted everything they grew. Now that they’re beginning to operate at capacity, they’re also beginning to reap the rewards of their hard work and persistence.
Of course, hard work is nothing without research and being prepared to be flexible. As Liz explains “Garlic is very tricky. We trialled seven varieties and settled on three which we’ve just expanded back to four with another new variety that’s coming along nicely. We had to learn what worked. We have quite an extreme climate, from intense heat to frosts.”
To succeed in their business, the two divide and conquer, working to their individual strengths. Liz takes the digital side of things and pays close attention to the details. “A lot of people tried to grow garlic here and failed. We put our heart and soul into it, but we also got our branding and marketing happening in a big way. We try to stay consistent across all of our platforms, so we have a distinctive brand”.
Social media and online research is an area they pay close attention to, and it’s an investment which has paid off. Rob spends his early mornings online looking at what’s going on in the agriculture industry, “we look at other garlic growers and brands in South Australia.” It didn’t take long for the local media to realise that something very different was happening at Ananda Organic and they’ve enjoyed a huge amount of attention, something else which has really helped their brand profile.
Quality is their primary focus and after 3 consecutive gold medals at the Australian Fine Food Awards received a Consistency of Excellence award. Being selected as finalists for the South Australian Regional Awards in the Premium Food and Wine category has highlights to date.
The pair are now looking to the future. Rob says “We’ve started to think outside the square. A big percentage of our customers bought our garlic to grow themselves. Our customers want to grow their own. We think in 5 years there will be lots of businesses like ours. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas that differentiate us from other garlic growers. So at the moment we’re looking at which new product lines and crops we could focus on.”
What they do now is a far cry from the jobs they used to do. But the biggest change might be that they now spend so much time together. Transitioning from having dinner together at the end of a busy day to running a business together full time is something that this couple has really valued.
They say that the time together travelling and living in a mobile home made their transition easier. Liz points out:
“The place is big enough that we can head to different ends of the garden if we need to.” But with the clear affection the pair have for each other and for their cash crop, it’s plain to see that this is a change well made.