Pecan passion

Countryman

What started out as a hobby for a superannuation fund has turned into a labour of love for the Oliver family in the Perth Hills.

Nineteen years ago, Chris and Linda Oliver and their five children - Michael, Kathryn, Nicholas and twins Robert and Brian - planted 300 pecan trees alongside their Carmel home, situated on a 8.5 hectare block.

The aim was for the orchard to be Chris' retirement plan from dentistry.

The idea to grow pecans came from Linda's cousin in Collie who has a plantation with 2000 trees.

But when the Oliver family's trees were just a year old, Chris passed away after having a heart attack. With her children ranging in age from eight to 16 years, Linda needed to be able to provide for her family.

Loving the farm, she turned to her children for ideas and good friends for support.

The pecans were a long-term investment and would take 12 to 15 years to mature before a crop could be harvested. With that in mind, Linda's eldest son, Michael, suggested they plant passionfruit as a cash crop. The idea was a success and the vines quickly established themselves.

The Olivers also built up their Isa Brown numbers to supply fresh, free-range eggs.

From there came the idea to sell produce at farmers markets, including products using fruit from the farm and neighbouring properties, such as jam and passionfruit pulp.

And six years ago, Linda and her children were able to harvest their first pecan crop, which was a sentimental and joyous occasion.

"In the beginning we were picking the nuts by hand and hitting them with poly pipe going into a tarp. It was very archaic when we started," she said.

Today, it's still a very labour-intensive process but they hire an olive shaker to shake the nuts off the trees into an apron, and then into a fruit bin.

"We usually do one pick with the machine for eight hours and anything else we do manually," Linda said.

Once picked in April, the nuts have a long process to go before they are ready for market. "What you are eating today is last year's harvest," Linda said.

"When you take the pecans out of the husk, you need to wear multiple pairs of gloves because they stain your hands.

"The oil goes back into the nut when they are husked, because the shell is quite moist and the oil goes into the nut giving it more flavour.

"At this stage, they are not ready to eat because they have to dry out."

Once the husks are off, the pecans are dried on racks under the winter sun from April to October before they are cracked into kernels and pieces at Linda's cousin's cracking plant in Collie.

From there, Linda and her family will bag up the pecans into 200 to 500 gram packets and sell at weekend markets. "Our regular customers keep coming back because they know the pecans are fresh and taste sweet," Linda said.

Eventually, Linda's plan is to make chocolate bars and biscuits to sell at markets.

But it's not just trees that are a focus at Carm-Ol Produce. With her children all grown up and focusing on their own careers, Linda has a team of Dorpers to help her out."They are our lawnmowers and they are good on a spit," Linda said.

Also helping out are travellers who join the Willing Workers on Organic Farms.

The Olivers sell their pecans under the Carm-Ol Produce name at the Kalamunda, Subiaco and Clontarf farmers markets every week and the Kalamunda monthly market.

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