Apply for our new “instant orchard” opportunity

We (Hugh and Katie Finlay) are excited to be putting the call out for the right person or people to lease our certified organic orchard. Our well-established mixed orchard is about 4 ha, and includes cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples and pears.

It’s a great opportunity for you to consolidate or learn a wide range of fruit-growing skills. 

The ideal person or people will have a strong interest in organic fruit growing. They’ll have at least some farming experience and knowledge of organic farming, and farming will be their chosen career. It’s a big job for one person, so would be ideal for a couple or partnership.

As a lessee on our farm, you’ll also become a member of the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC).  

Why has this opportunity come up?

Ant Wilson has been running the orchard (as Tellurian Fruit Gardens) for the last 3 years. His lease has finished, and he’s decided the time has come for him to move on to his next farming adventure. Ant’s passions are food sovereignty, mixed farming, and collaboration, and (after he takes a break) he’s keen to seek other opportunities to explore these in more depth.

Ant took to fruit growing like a duck to water. He’s done a fantastic job looking after the orchard, learning how to grow fruit and developing his successful community supported agriculture (CSA) market.

He’s been a friendly, lively and enthusiastic influence on the farm and we’re sad to see him go. However, we’re pleased that he’s ready and equipped to build on the experience he’s gained and move on to his next farming venture.

Ant’s also excited about creating the chance to help incubate another young farmer into the same opportunity he’s enjoyed. To that end, he’s offering the successful applicant(s) time to gain some experience with him and his intern, Sam, over the remainder of the 2020/21 fruit season. This will provide a long lead-in time for the new orchardist.

The new lease begins on 1 July 2021 and is for a minimum of 3 years, with the option to renew for a further 3 years.

Sounds interesting, tell me more…

We ran the orchard for about 20 years before we leased it to Ant in 2018. At that time we wrote a proposal that included our history, a description of the orchards, seasonal work calendar and breakdown of the main tasks, a summary of our markets, a list of the equipment and resources included in the lease. We’ll send you a copy of this detailed document when you submit an expression of interest.

Ant will provide up-to-date information about the last 3 years of the orchard business to the successful candidate. Documentation will most likely be provided after the fruit season (post-April). In the meantime, Ant provides lots of information about his business on his website, (much of it in the blog) including how the CSA scheme works, financial statements, etc. Ant’s also happy to answer any specific questions about current operations.

The lease will include access to the following:

  • The orchards and relevant equipment (tractor, airblast sprayer, cherry picker, electric secateurs, etc.).
  • Secure irrigation water and infrastructure.
  • Some aspects of the existing orchard business by arrangement with Ant. This could include business name, data base, CSA customers and system, website and social media, newsletter template, spreadsheets, work diary, etc.
  • Access to weekly Castlemaine Farmers Market in collaboration with other HOFC members (this is currently under review).
  • Introduction/access to other existing Farmers Markets and customers.
  • Assistance with systems (e.g., marketing, sales, farm record keeping, organic certification).
  • Premium membership of the Grow Great Fruit program, including one-on-one advice and mentoring.

What’s the financial arrangement?

You’ll be charged an annual lease payment, your outgoings (e.g., rates, water, and power), a membership fee to the Co-op, and a levy on your sales through the Co-op to pay for shared costs (e.g. market stall fees, market wages, organic certification and book-keeping – some of these costs are currently under review). You’ll be responsible for all other costs associated with running your business. All the income from the sale of fruit will be yours.

Next steps

  1. Submit your Expression of Interest in the Contact box to the right.
  2. We’ll send you the proposal with more detail about the opportunity.
  3. If you decide to apply for the position, send your application to info@growgreatfruit.com.  APPLICATIONS CLOSE ON February 5. Late applications may be accepted, so please get in touch. Your application should include:
    1. A brief resume. 
    2. A brief cover letter that includes answers to the following questions:
      1. Why are you interested in this opportunity?
      2. Why have you chosen farming as your career and where do you see yourself in 10 years?
      3. Do you plan to have an off-farm income?
      4. The job is too much for one person so how do you envisage managing the workload (e.g., you’re applying as a couple or a team, you’ll be seeking a business partner, employing people, using WWOOFers or volunteers, etc.)?
      5. Do you have any experience using farm machinery, e.g. tractors, forklifts?
  4. We’ll shortlist applicants, and get in touch to arrange a Zoom interview or let you know you were unsuccessful. We anticipate that interviews will take place during February.
  5. If you get through to the next stage, you’ll be invited to a “try-out” day in early March.
  6. We’ll aim to make a decision and offer the successful applicant the lease by mid-March.
  7. A schedule of volunteer induction/handover/training days will be set up by arrangement throughout March-June.
  8. The signed lease will start from 1 July!
What’s the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op?

We want to make our farm as productive as possible, and at the same time give emerging farmers (without access to land) the chance to run their own viable farming businesses.

The Co-op launched on 1 July 2018. Foundation members are:

  • Tellurian Fruit Gardens – Ant Wilson leases the orchard on the farm (previously called Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens). Ant sells his fruit via CSA, farmers markets and wholesale.
  • Gung Hoe Growers – Sas Allardice and Mel Willard have been leasing land from us since 2015 to run their market garden, and in that time have expanded a number of times. They sell to local restaurants, CSA, and through the Weekly Castlemaine Farmers Market.
  • Sellar Farmhouse Creamery – Tess Sellars runs a micro-dairy of 10 mainly Jersey cows on the farm, using rotational grazing and a mobile milking parlour, and processes the milk in an on-farm factory.
  • Carr’s Heritage Fruit Tree Nursery – Katie Finlay and her sister Liz Carr grow and sell a wide range of heritage fruit trees under the mentorship of their dad Merv Carr.
  • Grow Great Fruit – Hugh and Katie run an online organic fruit growing education business.

The Co-op was assisted with funding from Regional Development Victoria (RDV) to develop the business structure. With the experience of a few years under our belt, the structure is currently undergoing an internal review to refine it and make it more “fit for purpose”.

We also received RDV funding to help build infrastructure for the Co-op, including bathroom, lunchroom, water tank, Gung Hoe packing shed, and storage space.

Each enterprise has an individual lease with the landowners (Hugh & Katie), and this qualifies them to become a member of the Co-op. The Co-op facilitates the way we work together, e.g., we have collective organic certification with NASAA (#3683).   

What’s the history?

We’re Hugh and Katie Finlay. Before we leased the orchard to Ant, we ran Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, our organic orchard, for almost 20 years, first managing and then later buying what had been Katie’s family farm. You can read more of our backstory here.

Our land is a 30-hectare farm at the base of Leanganook (Mount Alexander) on Dja Dja Wurrung country in the beautiful Harcourt valley, a mainly apple-growing district. We’re in central Victoria, less than 1.5 hrs from Melbourne.

After we took over the farm from Merv Carr (Katie’s dad), it went through a couple of transformations. The first one was replanting the orchards with small quantities of a large number of fruit varieties, to suit selling at Farmers Markets. The second transformation was converting to organics, which we achieved in 2008. Merv has been here throughout, and remains an important and present part of the farm as the chief grower and mentor in Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery.

In 2016 we started planning HOFC as a combination growth and succession plan for the farm. It’s allowed us to stay on the farm while taking a back seat from actively running the orchard, and at the same time increase overall productivity by incubating new enterprises on our farm. The Co-op launched in 2018.

KEY DATES (ALL 2021)

JANUARY 30 – Applications close

FEBRUARY – Interviews (by Zoom or in person)

MARCH 14 – Decision made and lease offered

MARCH-JUNE – Regular handover/training days available by arrangement

JULY 1 – Lease signed

Other HOFC opportunities

We’re also open to proposals for other new enterprises to join the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op. They need to be compatible with the existing operations, and be (or become) certified organic.

These may include (but are not limited to):

  • berries (possibly pick-your-own)
  • culinary or medicinal herbs or bushfood 
  • cut flowers
  • seedlings (e.g., vegetables, flowers, herbs)
  • value-added products
  • bees (honey/beehives/workshops)
  • worm farming
  • compost production
  • chickens/poultry for eggs or meat
  • Tess is open to discussion with other certified organic small-herd dairies

We’re looking for someone with the drive, ambition, and desire to run their own successful organic farming business. We’re offering a minimum 3 year lease starting on 1 July 2021, with the option of an additional 3 year lease.

It would best suit someone with previous farming experience, as well as experience with organics. It may suit a couple, or a group of people wanting to work together, learn together and share the profits, or you could even run your enterprise as a not-for-profit, if you have a viable and sustainable business model.

You’ll need to have (or develop) a business plan, and be able to demonstrate the financial viability of your idea – we can help with templates and guidance as to the format. If you can show your idea is viable, you’re welcome to apply to become a member of the Co-op.

One of the big advantages of farming here is becoming part of an existing supportive farming community. The community decides together who can join the Co-op, which means part of the application process includes opportunities to get to know each other in a variety of informal ways (this might include sharing meals, a presentation of your idea and how you see it fitting into the Co-op, and you volunteering) so we can all decide whether a prospective new member feels like a good fit.

If you have an awesome (and reasonably well-developed) business that you think would fit, please get in touch through the Contact form on this page.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Hugh & Katie

Expression of Interest

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