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Australian fig grower showcases season with picnics and products

A South Australian fig grower is giving orchard visitors a new pick-your-own experience this season, by combining a love of figs with the natural beauty of the land.

“We’ve done pick-your-own for years now and wanted to change the experience for visitors to the estate,” Willabrand founder Willa Wauchope says.

“Normally with this kind of thing, you just go to the orchard, pick the figs, get hot from all the work, and then get in your car with the fruit and go home. I thought we could do more with the experience. We’ve got these lovely grounds at Glen Ewin, so we set up a bar and picnic area for the pick-your-own season.”

Located about 25 kilometres north of Adelaide, the Glen Ewin estate dates back to the 1840s, when it was established as a fig orchard and jam factory by renowned South Australian businessman George McEwin.

After falling into disrepair in the 1980s, Mr Wauchope’s family bought the estate in 1991 and have since resurrected the orchard and a cellar door that represents 10 Adelaide Hills wineries.

Mr Willa says the new pick-your-own experience encourages people to explore the whole estate, with the outdoor Fig Bar serving local wines, cheese boards to complement the freshly picked figs and sweet treats such as chocolate-coated figs and fig ice cream.

“Last week was our first week of it and we had around 400 or 500 people through. It was great to see – people brought their families up and we had children playing around on the grounds and everyone having a good time.”

The orchards at Glen Ewin have almost 12000 fig trees, with five main varieties: Archipal, Deanna, Spanish Desert, Brown Turkey and Black Genoa.

Mr Wauchope says this season is off to a good start, despite some weather issues in early February.

“We had an excellent start to the season, beautiful weather, but then it poured down with rain at the beginning of February. It was unseasonably wet, and that did cause some fruit to split. But quality and volumes are looking good for the season now,” he says, estimating a yield of around 40 tonnes, up from 30 tonnes in 2015.

“We also had a fairly good winter last year and that set us up well for the season. And we changed our fertiliser program after the last season, and the trees responded really well to that.”

Mr Wauchope practises organic management in the orchards, with a philosophy that when you “look after the soil, the trees will look after themselves”.

“So 90% of input to the farm is certified organic. I have a basic understanding that if I improve the soil and support the trees, they will do what they’re meant to do to produce fruit,” he says.

“All I need to do is provide. They know what to do and the fruit that comes off them is absolutely delicious.”

His passion for high quality figs has also led Willabrand in a different direction to many other commercial fig orchards in Australia.

While fresh figs have been steadily growing in demand around Australia and are now readily available in major supermarkets as well as markets, Mr Wauchope is a big believer in enjoying fresh figs soon after they are picked.

“Figs don’t ripen off the tree, once they’re picked, and they’re a really fragile fruit to transport and store,” he explains.

“You can make them last 7 days, you can make them last 10 days, but the longer they are in a controlled environment, the less attractive they are and the less flavour they have.”

As a result, Willabrand is currently focused on supplying fresh figs to businesses and retailers in South Australia, while also creating a range of high-quality, longer-lasting products.

“We’re both a primary producer and manufacturer,” he says. “So we do dried figs and other value-added products as well.”

He says their value-added fig products have done extremely well, winning many awards locally and internationally. Currently Willabrand fig products are primarily sold in Australia, but Mr Wauchope is very interested in getting back into exporting them.

“We’ve exported before, but we kind of got out of it due to high costs at the time. I’d quite like to get back into it now,” he says.

“The value-added products did really well in Europe, and I think a lot of countries in Asia – particularly Hong Kong, China, Japan and Korea – would love it because of the purity.”

As well as following organic management practises, all of Willabrand’s fig products are preservative free and gluten free.

“We are driven by producing products that are full of flavour, and I also think Australian standards are quite high for food manufacturing. So I’d be keen to open up that avenue for our products,” he says.

Willabrand is currently in full swing with harvesting figs, with the pick-your-own experience available from February through March, and manufacturing of the value-added products set to begin soon after the season ends.
For more information:
Willa Wauchope
Tel: +61 8380 5692

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