A life less ordinary

Frank SmithCountryman

Greg and Sandy Sudholz grow unusual and heritage varieties of vegetables in Wokalup.

Greg was born in Victoria but raised on a farm in the Wheatbelt. As a young adult, he found he was allergic to wheat, so he went shearing, returning to the family farm to help with harvest and seeding.

Later, he and Sandy bought a block at Lake Clifton and Greg got a job with Alcoa at Wagerup as a heavy-duty plant mechanic. He retired after 30 years, following a brush with kidney cancer.

The block was close to the new Forrest Highway, so they sold that for development and bought the 28 hectare homestead block of a dairy farm in the Harvey irrigation district at Wokalup.

Greg and Sandy grow a range of vegetables on part of the block and run beef cattle on the remainder.

The farm is run on biodynamic lines. It is Demeter certified, in conversion because of the recent moves.

“We sell every week in the Peel Farmers’ Market and biodynamics gives us an edge, ” Greg said.

“I stop people as they walk past and talk to them. I enjoy interacting with customers and offering them a taste of our produce. Nine out of 10 will buy when they have tasted something.

“Selling is a art form. People often don’t know what to do with unusual vegetables, so we give out recipes.”

Being self-sufficient

Vegetables are Greg and Sandy’s main interest, but they have tried most things.

“We’ve been self-sufficient for years. We used to make our own bacon and sausages; now we are down to just beef and poultry, ” Greg said.

“We used to breed from British Large Blacks, a rare and very docile pig breed, but eventually sold them to a specialist herd in Victoria.”

They run two breeds of chooks, Silver Hamburgs and Australorp Bantams. They maintain two purebred lines then cross them. “The cross makes a nice size roast for two people, ” Greg said.

Most of the property is irrigated grass, so the couple started to run Devon cattle.

“They are rich red in colour and an old dairy breed, but they were not much in demand in the market so we crossed them with a Murray Grey and then a Shorthorn bull. But we are returning to Red Devon because the milk is high in butterfat, ” Greg said.

He makes his own hay and does not buy in food or fertiliser, except Aglime for his acidic soils. “I feed hay on a concrete pad and collect manure and leftover hay to make compost for the vegies, ” he said.

Greg markets his prime cattle through an organic and biodynamic beef co-operative in Donnybrook, which supplies butchers who want to sell organically reared meat. The couple rejected the idea of marketing his own meat, because of the cost of processing and the difficulty of dealing with shire health regulations.

A love of the unusual

Unusual vegetables are Greg’s passion. “I’ve always been interested in exotic plants. For example, we grow Yacon, a Brazilian tuber also known as ‘apple of the earth’. They are like water chestnuts. You can eat them raw or use in stir-fries. They stay crunchy even when they are cooked, ” Greg said.

His mainstay is sweet potatoes and pumpkins. He grows several varieties of pumpkins; varieties such as Marina di Chioggia are sweet like melons.

“They keep a long time, but butternut is the only real pumpkin, ” he said.

The couple also grow squash, zucchino rampicante and a soft melon, which Italians eat with prosciutto.

Greg buys seeds from an Italian importer in New South Wales that specialises in older varieties.

Other pumpkins include Styrian pumpkins, which are used in the United States for Halloween lanterns. They grow them for the seeds, which are roasted and then eaten as ‘pepitas’.

Other vegetables in season include Jerusalem artichokes, spaghetti squash and Iowa Chief corn — which was grown before hybrid maize was developed — red and white onions and red mustard.

“Red mustard tastes hot, like mustard seed. I sell 20–30 bunches a week, ” Greg said.

He grows an unusual turnip, Bianca Lodigiana, which has white radish-like flesh and can be eaten raw in salads; dwarf Italian beans with black and brown seeds; break’o day tomatoes, the predecessor to Grosse Lisse but pale red in colour; and an old Australian favourite, chokos. “I sell chokos for 50 cents each. The shop price for exotic vegetables is ridiculous — $1.60 for a choko. I can’t wait for the new moon to start planting seeds, ” Greg said.

Biodynamic growers plant according to the phase of the moon, believing that the moon causes high tides and so also causes moisture to rise in the soil profile.

Greg also controls weeds by a rotary hoe during the new moon.

Greg’s mechanical skills are still put to good use to keep his farm machinery running. “Some of it is more than 20 years old, ” he said.

The couple said the beef and vegetable business was their hobby. “You have to have off-farm income to survive, otherwise it is hard work to make it pay. We aim to pay our water rates out of the cattle, and the vegies pay for a holiday every year, ” Greg said.

ABOUT THE BLOCK

WHO: Greg and Sandy Sudholz

WHAT: Heritage vegetables and beef

WHERE: Wokalup

SIZE: 28 hectares

The couple sell their produce at Peel Farmers’ Market every week.

They say some people are unsure of how to use heritage vegetables, and so they hand out recipes to customers.

Biodynamic growers plant according to the phase of the moon.

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