What does “value-adding” make you think of?
Sounds like something to do with economics, doesn’t it? But in the farming and homesteading world, it’s used to describe any process where you turn raw product (like fruit) into something else (like juice). Apples in particular lend themselves to value-adding in all sorts of ways.
It’s something we’ve always done at home for our own use. We aim to store as much fresh produce as we can over summer, to eat in winter.
Each year we make our own juice, bottled fruit, jam, chutney, pickles, and dried fruit. We even butcher our own meat and make soap with the excess fat.
Over the years we’ve also done quite a bit of value-adding on a commercial scale. Making raspberry jam and other preserves provided such a handy addition to our income that we’ve been keen to pass on the skills to others who grow fruit and might appreciate another income stream.
Many of our Grow Great Fruit members provide a significant part of their food through preserving what they grow or are working towards providing an income stream from value-adding. For the young farmers who we’ve mentored to run the orchards here on our farm, it’s a great way of turning second or third-grade fruit into another income stream.
Value-adding on a larger commercial scale would take real commitment and quite a bit of time. It needs investment in equipment and training. Then there are all the other things involved in launching new products like market testing, labeling, sourcing, and logistics.
But small-scale value-adding for fun and profit is super-achievable and exciting. We reckon it remains one of the great untapped potential income streams for homesteaders and gardeners.
Learning about value-adding from organic family farms
We’re part of a group called the Australian Network of Organic Orchardists (ANOO). Annual conferences rotate around the southern states. Value-adding is usually a hot topic of conversation, and nearly every grower in the network is value-adding. In every case, it makes a big difference to their bottom line.
Ideas for value-adding to fruit
Here are a few of the value-adding enterprises that other organic orchardists are making/doing that have inspired us:
Some growers are making and pasteurising their own juice. Some are selling it fresh and unpasteurised, and some are sending fruit to processors who do the whole process for them.
We’ve seen (and tasted) some beautiful examples of dried fruit (and veggies). Again, growers are processing in a variety of different ways.
Some are cutting whole, unpeeled fruit with an automatic mandolin and then drying in a heat-controlled electric machine that rapidly dries fruit to a pre-set moisture level. You can see a picture of this very cool machine below.
There are loads of different options for drying your own fruit. Some small-scale growers are processing by hand and drying in the sun. Others have semi-automated fruit prep and solar drying systems. Electric dehydrators are popular, but of course cost more and are less environmentally friendly than solar systems.
Many organic apple growers that we’ve met at conferences both in Australia and overseas are cider makers. With the boom in boutique alcohol, this area has loads of potential.
Apple cider vinegar
A close cousin of cider, this product has so many uses that any grower that’s making it says they can’t produce enough for their markets. It also makes a great base for a variety of fruit-based vinegars.
Some creative growers have found an excellent market in frozen fruit. They use specific varieties known to be high in vitamins and anti-oxidants and aim squarely at the health food market. Clever!
Jams & jellies
Apple jelly is super easy to make, and can be jazzed up with all manner of different flavourings like rosemary or lavender. Fruit jams such as apricot, plum, or berrry tend to race out the door at farmers markets.
Lots of consumers would much rather buy bottled fruit grown locally than generic tinned fruit, but it’s really hard to find. Almost no-one is doing this, so it’s a wide-open niche, particularly now that shoppers are becoming more familiar with the concept of returnable glass jars for milk.
A couple of small-scale organic growers we know have expanded into the related area of turning fruit into pies and pastries. It’s more fiddly and requires a much higher skill level (you actually need to be able to cook!), but the returns are worth it.
If you’re on a journey of trying to grow more fruit, it’s definitely worth thinking about whether you can create a new income stream or “side hustle”.
But even if you’re not in it to make money, value-adding is worth your time. It’s great for the budget if you can replace things you’d normally buy with produce out of your own garden, it’s fun, and it’s very, very satisfying.