For the team at Carboor Farms, 2020 has been the best of times and the worst of times (to badly misquote Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities).
During 2019 we had picked up a Food Source Victoria grant from the Victorian Government to commission a hazelnut cracker at our East Wangaratta farm and 2020 was always going to be about completing this project.
We started off the year seeking divine intervention as we watched helplessly as the Abbeyard bushfire roared up the hilltops in the Emu and Black ranges and came within 2km (less than 15 minutes) of our Carboor farm. The CFA and local farmers did an amazing job of cutting control lines which the fire ultimately jumped, and with the very dry vegetation and gusty winds we lost hope. On the day we were sure we were going to lose everything at that property, the embers started raining down on our farm but then the cold change came through with the resulting rain and wind that ultimately blew the fire back over itself and safely away from our farm.
The recovery efforts in the north east obviously needed all the resources allocated to getting homes and towns safe and the construction of our cracking shed was delayed by several months as electricians and builders were pulled to other jobs. The key for us was for the shed to be ready for the assembly and commissioning of the cracking machine by Pedro and Marcos (the technicians from Borrell, the Spanish cracking machine manufacturer) by the start of May to meet our grant completion date.
We watched the evolving coronavirus situation unfold and took a massive risk by arranging the technician’s flights and entry documents and they arrived in March days before Australia closed borders to Spain. Pedro and Marcos worked diligently (despite both men being genuinely concerned about family and friends at risk in Spain) and completed the assembly in record time, leaving Australia days before further travel restrictions were put in place.
Despite these delays amounting to about 4 months, we expect to be ready to commence cracking in September and will have the best hazelnuts in the world more broadly in the Australian marketplace.
Overall, we consider ourselves to be incredibly lucky. While we came close to being burnt out, we were not. Many of our friends and neighbours in the north east lost everything and due to the coronavirus have been hampered in their efforts to rebuild. While the impacts of the bushfires were more wide ranging than we ever expected with rivers and other water sources become unusable due to the ash runoff, we have seen the forests spring back to life in the months since.
The dark cloud of the coronavirus has shown a silver lining. As global supply chains have been shut down, there are emerging opportunities for Australian manufacturers and producers to regain ground in the marketplace and a lot of support from the government to enable this and support recovery from this recession.
We have been touched to see our farmers market sales take off during the pandemic and sincerely thank our new and regular customers, Alison and the Slow Food team for their hard work to make the two markets the incredible success that they are. Support has been strong with doubling of online sales as interstate buyers seek to support our proudly Victorian business which can be found at www.carboorharvest.com.au.