Mangoes: the fruit of love

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

It was love that first drew Brian Middleton to mangoes.

The passionate Neerabup orchardist readily admits he did not really like mangoes and could not see what all the fuss was about.

But at the tender age of 20, Brian married a woman who had a taste for the tropical fruit and it was his love for her and her love of mangoes that sowed the seeds of what has now become Brian’s passion.

Slicing into one of the plump fruit he has just picked from his 1000-plus tree mango orchard, Brian said it has been a steep learning curve, but one he would happily do again.

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“When we had the opportunity and we had some money to buy a property, the first thing I did in my experimental orchard was plant two mango trees for my wife,” he said.

“One tree died quickly and the other one ended up producing three or four magnificent mangoes.

“I tried one of these mangos and thought, ‘My God, these mangoes — there’s nothing wrong with these’.

“From there, I decided to plant 50 trees, because I realised if I could grow mangoes like this I could make a fortune.”

Just two years later, a severe frost claimed the tender trees, so another 50 were promptly planted.

“This time, I covered them with plastic bags and after five years I was picking some beautiful mangoes. I decided to clear 10 acres and do it commercially. So it was the love of a woman that has got me all this.”

The fortune might have been slower coming than the fruit, but the venture has never been about making money.

One of just a few mango growers near Perth, Brian is one of those rare breeds who completely loves his job.

And it shows in the lines of the Perth Mango Farm’s immaculate trees and the fruit they produce.

“It’s all about the flavour and I’m really fussy,” Brian said. “I’m not here for the money — this is my passion, this is my dream of 20 years.”

Brian might love his mangoes, but the customers seem to love them more.

Even mid-morning on a scorching Wednesday the stream of customers at the orchard is constant and at the last weekend of his mango season Brian sold eight tonnes of fruit in just three days.

He doesn’t use the market system, instead he sells directly to the public and offers them the opportunity to pick their own straight from the tree.

Not only does that allow Brian a slightly larger margin, it means customers can buy mangoes with superior flavour for either the same or less than they would pay in the shops.

“Most commercial growers these days take four or five lines of fruit — all green — they pick them, they grade them, put them in cartons, cover it with a tarpaulin, give it a whiff of ethylene gas, put a heater in there and they ripen the fruit artificially.

“Because it hasn’t been left to mature on the tree, it doesn’t ripen with as beautiful flavour.

“Every one of my fruit is picked mature. In one way it doesn’t pay to do that if I had to use the market system, but because I’m getting the retail price directly I can afford to pay that extra in picking so you’re guaranteed beautiful fruit.

“When the season started we were selling at $10kg and the market would have paid me $11kg, less the commission, less the packing, less the carting and all that sort of thing so I would have been down to $8 a kilo.”

But Brian never went into it for the money and as he chats to a couple of elderly gents filling their buckets with mangoes, one gets the feeling it’s the customer interaction he loves the most.

“I like selling my fruit. I’ve been growing mangoes for 25 years and I’ve been selling them to the public for nearly 15 years.

“There’s nothing nicer than a customer coming back and saying, ‘Oh we cut up one of your mangoes for lunch and it was the most beautiful mango I’d ever tried’. These people travel from South Fremantle, Baldivis, Gingin — all over.”

The mango season might be over for this year, but come February 2012, Brian will be doing it all over again — and he can’t wait.

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