Orchard Keepers Season Update: A Year of Fruit and Community (and cake)

Orchard Keepers Season Update: A Year of Fruit and Community (and cake)

As the fruit season comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the year’s highlights and challenges. 

The most pleasing aspect was that the weather was kind and the fruit was abundant. After a couple of very wet years (and the loss of our peach and nectarine trees as a result), it was a welcome relief for (almost) everything to go according to plan.

Apart from the excellent harvest, the season was eventful in other ways. We trialled a couple of new initiatives, with mixed but mostly positive results. 

Pick-your-own CSA – the ups & downs

The PYO-CSA scheme (Pick-Your-Own Community Supported Agriculture) was introduced as a novel way to engage our community. 

This initiative allowed members to pick their fruit directly from the orchard, offering them a hands-on experience and a deeper connection to their food source. Members subscribed to a 50kg or 100kg share, which they could pick at their convenience throughout the season.

We thought this approach would provide a more flexible and interactive alternative to the previous CSA model where members got a weekly pre-packed box of fruit. We were also trying to improve the viability of the orchard and keep our costs down by bypassing picking and packing at least some of the crop.

The scheme had its ups and downs. On the positive side, it fostered a sense of ownership and involvement among participants. Families enjoyed outings to the orchard, especially bringing kids to pick fruit. 

When we asked some of our members the best thing about the scheme, they said they loved “Visiting the farm, learning about new plums, processing the bounty at home for the coming year. ” Other reasons for subscribing included “quality fruit”, “freshness of the fruit”, “I loved picking my own fruit.” and “Bringing the kids and grandkids out to pick, and the delicious fruit.”

However, the scheme also presented challenges. Staffing the Farm Shop two days a week (sometimes for no visitors) and managing the harvest to ensure there was enough ripe fruit for everyone without knowing when (or if) people would be visiting were significant challenges. 

Despite these hurdles, it was a great experiment and will definitely help to inform future offerings. 

Fruit crew highlights

Another major highlight was the Fruit Crew volunteer exchange program. This was a raging success, providing mutual benefits for both the orchard and the volunteers. 

More than 30 people volunteered their time over the season in exchange for fruit, a weekly mini-class, and a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie. Plus, we ate a LOT of cake. (Shout out to Liesl from Goodness Flour for supplying us with astoundingly delicious cake and biscuit pre-mixes all season.)

The mini-classes were particularly popular. Vollies have learned about most aspects of fruit growing including picking, packing, marketing, pruning, fruit fly prevention, thinning, irrigation, soil health, and lots more! Lots of people commented that getting hands-on experience has been a much more impactful way of learning than just reading about it.

The camaraderie among the Fruit Crew has been beautiful to be part of, as friendships have blossomed and a supportive network formed. The Crew has brought much goodwill, enthusiasm, and joy to the farm, the orchard enterprise, and our lives. It’s been so successful that it’s still going, despite the fact that we’ve finished harvest. They even continued in our absence when we (Katie and Hugh) went on holiday for a couple of weeks!

Checking on cherries!

What’s next?

We’ve had a lot of questions about what’s happening with the orchard next year. We wish we could tell you! Truth is, we don’t know yet. 

In the short term, the Orchard Keepers are excited to announce that we’re seeking a new team to lease the orchard for the next three years. This is a fantastic opportunity for passionate individuals or groups to take the reins and continue the orchard’s legacy.

We will be holding a Co-op relaunch & recruitment webinar on June 6 (7-8pm) & a follow up EOI – Small Farm Enterprise planning webinar & ideas jam to provide more details about this opportunity and to answer any questions prospective lessees might have.

As we close out this season, we want to express our gratitude to everyone who participated in the PYO-CSA scheme or the Fruit Crew program, visited the farm, or bought our fruit at a market or one of the shops that has stocked our fruit.

Your enthusiasm and support have been instrumental in making this year a success. We look forward to evolving these programs and welcoming a new team to lead the orchard into its next fruitful chapter.


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