Hi, we’re Hugh and Katie Finlay and we’re passionate about making abundant, free organic fruit a reality for all.
Nestled at the foot of Mt Alexander in central Victoria, our farm orchards are planted like an old fashioned “garden” (the early name for an orchard) with small plantings of more than 90 varieties, providing an extended season of fresh fruit off the tree for almost 6 months.
In many ways, the farm still looks as it would have when the orchards were planted in the 1880’s by W.L. Williams and sons. By 1909 they had an orchard or ‘garden’ of 60 acres, making them Harcourt’s largest fruit growers. They successfully grew apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and cherries – as we still do today, though on a much smaller scale. (Our farm was previously called Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens to honour these multi-species plantings.)
With a combination of careful planning, looking after the trees well, appropriate storage, and a range of preserving techniques, our place is a working demonstration of how to keep your family supplied with home-grown organic fruit all year round.
When we started teaching the Grow Great Fruit system back in 2013, we were full-time farmers. Farming is full-on, so the teaching was always squeezed into the gaps between harvesting, selling fruit at markets, pruning, and the hundred other jobs involved in running a busy farm.
The last few years have been busy, but we’ve always found teaching fruit growing to be energising, not draining. And, our members and students have been getting great results!
In fact, helping fruit enthusiasts has been so rewarding and meaningful that we decided we want to do a lot more of it. But to do that, we knew we’d have to do less farming. So, we put a plan in place to give our passion project the time it deserves. We’ve trained up a young farmer (the fabulous Ant Wilson), leased our orchard to him, and set up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-operative on our farm.
Why is teaching organic fruit growing so important to us?
Generations of kids and adults are growing up without ever picking ripe fruit from a tree—if you’re lucky enough to have childhood fruit memories, you know how special that is!
There’s a growing disconnect from nature and where our food comes from. It’s probably no coincidence that as a society, physical and mental health problems are on the rise.
Plus, there are so many things to worry about at the moment—pandemics, climate change, bushfires, economic woes and drought are just the top of a long list. Bees are under threat, species are disappearing, and our topsoil is being swept away in dust storms.
If ever there was a time for simple, practical skill-based solutions, it’s now.
You already know this….
If you’re on this website you’ve probably already felt the urge to get in the garden or move to the country, connect with nature, and simplify your life, right? Somehow, you just know deep in your gut that you want to grow your own food, and you probably share our belief that kids deserve to grow up eating and learning about home-grown food.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced how important it is to have control over our food supply, and how rewarding it is to have a productive garden.
In the past the knowledge was handed down from elders. Kids learned by watching their parents. We lived in communities that grew and shared food.
Now, everyone’s trying figure it out for themselves.
There’s TV shows, magazines, and books dedicated to teaching food-growing skills, but learning alone can be a long, slow process, and getting it wrong can lead to insecurity and doubt—in fact, repeated failures can actually have a negative effect on your well-being, as well as being a waste of time and money.
That’s where we come in.
How did the Grow Great Fruit system start?
Learning how to grow organic fruit on our orchard over the last 20 years has given us a wide body of knowledge about how to protect fruit trees against drought, flood, pests, disease and weather—how to expect the unexpected, in other words. We learned the hard way, by making mistakes, living through disasters, and coming up against new challenges every single year.
With the help of wise teachers and mentors and lots of trial and error we learned how to grow a successful—though sometimes small—crop every single year. Having five kids to feed, clothe and put through school was a great motivator!
When we came out the other end, we realised we’d built up a pretty solid system of practice that was helping us get good results year in, year out.
Give a woman a peach and you feed her for a day, teach a woman to grow peaches and you feed her for a lifetime.
Feeding our customers with organic fruit was wonderful, but we wanted to make a wider impact in the world, to spread the benefits of access to organic fruit beyond just the people we could feed. We wanted to share what we’d learned.
Passing on and preserving these skills has never been more urgent.
It’s up to our generation, right now, to re-learn how to grow our own food, and pass those skills on to our kids.
We’re committed to this next phase of our lives. Quite simply, we want to offer the best online fruit growing program in the world. Find out more about it here.
A bit more background about us…
Hugh’s farming experience started on a cattle station in Western Australia (which he ended up managing), followed by a stint as a supervisor on a broadacre wheat farm in Saudi Arabia. Travelling around the world for fun turned into 16 years as a writer and editor for Lonely Planet, an exotic lifestyle he eventually gave up to return to farming and settle down in Harcourt.
Hugh’s training was significant in steering Grow Great Fruit towards organics and biological management:
- “Monitor and manage soils” and “Pest, disease and weed management”, Diploma of Agriculture in Organic Farming, Organic Agriculture Association/Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE.
- Sustainable and Biological Farming Course, Dr Arden Anderson PhD DO FS
- “True Fertility Compost Tea Course” and “Microscope Course”, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Soil Food Web Institute
- “Compost & Compost Tea Workshop”, Paul Taylor
- “Irrigation Management Course”, Department of Natural Resources and Sunraysia TAFE
- “Cherry Short Course”, Department of Primary Industries, Shepparton
- “Soil and Agronomy Workshop”, Dr Arden Andersen PhD DO FS
- “Environmental Best Management Practice on Farms”, Department of Primary Industries
Hugh’s a self-confessed soil and microbe nerd, and has spent a fair bit of time looking down a microscope. His areas of specialty are many and varied, but include:
- Nutrition—looking after the worms (his babies), compost, soil testing, leaf testing, fertigation and foliar sprays
- Irrigation—knowing how pumps and irrigation systems tick, monitoring soil moisture, deciding when and how much to water trees
- Pest and disease control—predicting the weather and putting on preventive organic sprays at exactly the right time
- Machinery fix-it guy
- IT and website fix-it guy
Katie’s a third-generation orchardist and grew up here in Harcourt on the family farm, then headed to Melbourne to get a Bachelor of Science at Monash Uni majoring in botany and genetics—which came in very handy when she came home to the farm 15 years later.
Katie’s training has been in different areas to Hugh—but no less significant in shaping the direction of the farm and the Grow Great Fruit business.
- “Permaculture Design Certificate”, Beck Lowe, Cydonia Permaculture
- “Permaculture Certificate 3”, Beck Lowe, Cydonia Permaculture and Eltham College
- “Soil and Agronomy Workshop”, Dr Arden Anderson PhD DO FS
- “Footprints to Sustainability”, Jane Knight
- “Biodynamic Field Day”, Biodynamic Agriculture Australia
- “Environmental Best Management Practice on Farms”, Department of Primary Industries
- “Holistic Management” , Kirk Gadzia
- “Soil Microbes for Healthy Soil & Improved Vineyard Quality, Department of Primary Industries
- “Carbon Farming 101”, Carbon Farmers of Australia
Katie’s specialty areas include:
- Pruning—5,000 trees and 4 different tree training systems over 20 years adds up to a lot of experience
- Fruit picking—timing the harvest to ensure every variety is picked in perfect condition
- Grading, storing and preserving to ensure every piece of fruit is used to its highest purpose
- Thinning to manage crop load and quality
- Orchard hygiene and pest and disease control
- Orchard planning—variety selection, pollination and harvest planning
- Grafting and growing rootstocks from seed and cutting