Green and gold
Ruth Green decided to grow macadamias about 20 years ago, after reading an article in Countryman.
She now has 500 macadamia trees growing on her five-acre property at Helena Valley.
"People don't realise we grow (macadamias) here," she said. "The only thing is they don't grow overnight - it's five to seven years before they produce. There was no cash flow to start with, just a lot of work."
That work has paid off, with Ruth now busy with processing nuts for her line of gourmet food products, which she sells online at the Farmers Market on Manning at Curtin University on Saturdays and the Kalamunda Farmers Market on Sundays.
"I started processing 10 years ago. It was always in the back of my mind," she said. "I started off with biscuits and it's just grown."
Ruth's gourmet food products are so popular that she has to buy in macadamias from other WA growers to keep up with demand.
"I spend a lot of time on value-adding. I'm doing muesli and gluten-free biscuits, which have been popular at the markets. It's good getting feedback at the markets and people can talk direct to the grower," she said.
"I go out to the field days and country shows as well, and my eldest daughter goes to the markets while I'm away."
Ruth's three teenage daughters - Tamara, Rachel and Emma - help out with the business, as do the chooks, ponies and sheep.
Although not certified organic, Ruth does not spray her trees and uses natural farming methods.
"I let the chooks out in the afternoon, they scratch around the orchard. There's plenty for them to eat, and their eggs are beautiful - I use them in the biscuits," she said.
"The sheep go into the orchard at certain times of the year to keep the weeds down."
The animals also play an integral part in making compost. Manure and leaves are broken down and used in the orchard.
"You know you've got a good environment when you've got a lot of frogs," Ruth said. "We've got a lot at the moment, it's a good sign. They keep the bugs away and do no harm to my product.
"It's all part of the cycle, it makes sense as a grower."
The main problem Ruth has is black cockatoos, which eat the nuts before they are harvested.
"I had a dog trained to scare them but they got used to that. They know it's a food source," she said. "You can't net the trees, they're too big."
The nuts are processed at a commercial kitchen in Midland, which complies with all health regulations. There is no waste, with small pieces used for biscuits and whole nuts cracked and packaged.
"You've got to look outside the square," Ruth said. "If you're going to make a living off of it, you've got to value-add."
Ruth said another plus to value-adding was the chance to diversify and keep the product lines fresh and interesting for customers. At the moment she's focusing on gift baskets filled with her own products as well as other local goodies.
"I have a few other ideas but I'm happy where I am at the moment," she said. "It's nice to be able to promote WA not only to West Australians but other people as well."
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