Land of Plenty in the Kimberley
A story of the Jowetts’ belief in the country, themselves and one another
Milking cows in freezing temperatures at the crack of dawn prepared Growcom member, Katrina Jowett for a life hard-won.
From an early age, she had what it took to be a farmer, growing up in the dairying region of the Darling Downs. But it wasn’t until she met her husband, Chris, 31, and they learnt the art of growing, that the prospect of running their own farming business became a reality.
More than halfway across the country, amidst the beautiful scenery of the Kimberley, the Jowetts now own Acadia Farms where they grow and pack watermelons, pumpkins, honeydew melons, and rockmelons.
Katrina met Chris in 2006 when she was still dairying and he was managing a broad-acre grain and beef operation in the Western Downs. Within five years they were married and took a working holiday to Kununurra in Western Australia to work as farmhands on a horticulture property.
The move was only meant to last nine months but an opportunity soon arose for them to lease their own block of land.
“We knew it was something we were passionate about and wanted to continue doing in life together,” Katrina said.
“We drove roughly three and half thousand kilometres back to Queensland, had a think about it over Christmas with our family, then we packed up our Ute and drove back across the following February. We prepared crops for growing that season, at the start of 2013.”
Located in the Ord River Irrigation Area, Acadia Farms prides itself on growing and packing high-quality produce that exceeds customer expectations. Its paddocks, which cover 200 hectares, are lushed with sandy-loam soils, nestled amongst the Kimberley’s iconic Boab trees. Watermelon is the main line of production, along with assorted varieties of honeydew, rockmelon and pumpkins.
The Jowetts supply produce annually to major retailers, independents and green grocers. They also export a small percentage of their crop to New Zealand.
To keep the presentation of their produce pristine, they remain keenly focused on the latest crop protection technologies, nutrition information and innovative growing techniques in the industry. But championing progressive and sustainable farming doesn’t come easy.
“It’s definitely been a steep learning curve from milking cows to growing watermelons and pumpkins, but it’s a good challenge and I think no matter what part of farming you’re in, there are always challenges. It’s about working through the challenges and not letting them beat you. I think that’s the resilience that has been taught to us by growing up on the land with farming families,” Katrina said.
“If we’ve been through a challenge its more than likely that someone else has been through it too so you know you’re not alone.”
Since the start of their business, the Jowetts have celebrated the arrival of two daughters, Sophie, 3, and Annabelle, 2. Katrina admits it has been hard trying to find a balance between motherhood and operating a business. There are days where she feels guilty for not spending as much time with her children as she would like but looks towards the future with perspective.
“We’ve decided to work hard while we’re young so we can provide a good life for our children, and provide them with opportunities for schooling and education. They’re still with us on the farm. They’ll come up and check the watermelons with us or sit on the forklift as we load the trucks and go in the tractor with Chris,” she said.
“Being able to eat that beautiful, juicy watermelon when it’s ready to harvest, and seeing our little kids get all juicy and delicious – that’s where the satisfaction comes from.”
Beyond raising their children, core family values of loyalty, honesty and integrity have formed the foundation of the Jowetts’ business relationships. They have been blessed with the generosity of former employers, who sowed the seeds of horticulture in their minds, and genuine camaraderie with fellow growers in the region.
“Everyone’s got each other’s backs and we support each other even though we are direct competitors. It’s really special because I don’t think you find that in horticulture in many other parts of Australia,” Katrina said.
“Because we’re so remote and isolated from the main markets, we try to work together so that it can still remain positive for us all.”
At the peak of its production cycle, Acadia Farms employs around fifteen staff for its picking and packing crew from the Working Holiday Maker Program. With the opportunity of expansion on their minds, the Jowetts remain wary of not compromising the quality of their crop.
“It would be another big step to take. We have to work out the logistics whilst still reflecting what our business is built on, which is growing quality fresh produce,” Katrina said.
She points to the work the government’s doing in rolling out free trade agreements as promising for the future of exports especially to Asia.
Due to their location, having good connections in the market ensures quality control is maintained throughout the supply chain.
“We rely on those relationships to ensure that our produce meets quality standards and has travelled well before being sent to retailers. There are a lot of factors that come into play during four days on the road,” she said.
Despite being so far removed from the rest of the country, Katrina does love the beauty of the Kimberley.
“The scenery is really amazing. When you go for a drive and see the grazing country which is so harsh and rugged, but then within the valley lie fertile soils and beautiful water. We can grow all through the winter with sunshine and lovely warm days for the most part. It’s pretty hard to beat.”
It is for these reasons, and with hopeful belief, that Katrina and Chris named their farm ‘Acadia’, a word which means “Land of Plenty”.
“We are hopeful that we will see it continue to grow into the fruition of the positive of what we named the farm for.”
When problems arise that seem insurmountable, Katrina relies on an inner faith that she shares with her husband.
“Some days it’s the only thing that you’ve got left to hang on to. It certainly doesn’t make us immune to failure or things going wrong, but it does give us a hope for the future.”
When asked whether she ever considered giving up farming, Katrina struggles to reckon with another way of life.
“Farming’s always been and probably will always be the main aspect of what we do. I don’t think you’d ever catch either of us sitting in an office and working for someone else. It’s too much a part of who we are.”
Acadia Farms is featured in the June 2018 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Sam Allen-Ankins