Go to: Early family history | Involvement with the Catholic Church | History from the 1950s | Dairying | Frank’s education | The history of the Bridge and naming of Boyle Road | Changes in the local area from the 1970s | Frank and Andrea meet | Moving out of dairying | Farmers’ markets | Rice | Raising awareness of food production | The future and the food movement | Farm forestry | Work ethic | The House
Frank: The rice story, well. In 2001 I got a job at the Department of Agriculture. Three day a week job. Cause, you know children getting older we’d sort of borrowed money to buy the farm and what we were getting out of the farm wasn’t enough because the pecans are such a long term thing and the beef cattle weren’t doing enough, so I got a job. It was a fantastic job, it was three days a week, it was a government job and it worked really well. I was there for six years and I got a job at Woodlawn, as the Ag assistant, which was great, it was a fantastic job. Again it was three days a week, but it was closer to home and I really enjoyed dealing with the kids. I really enjoyed being so passionate about farming. You know, showing these kids how to grow vegies.
How the rice came about is that, where they grow rice down the Riverina, they were having trouble with droughts and lack of water, so they weren’t able to grow rice. So Sun Rice, who are the big rice company were looking for somewhere with high rainfall to grow rice to keep their factories going. And they were targeting the cane growers up in this area. So I heard about it and I sort of thought this would be good for the kids to see, the students at Woodlawn to see how rice grows. So I went to couple of field days and I thought, while I was there I thought, I’ll grow a bit myself and see what happens. Because we grow soya beans and corn and we had done all that sort of stuff. I put one hectare in beside the soya bean paddock and, and it grew really well. Fantastic, lovely crop and came to harvest time we harvested the soy beans, the same machine was able to harvest the rice. So we harvested it and sort of put it in a field bin and I had five tonne of paddy rice and I thought, you know, what are we going do with this? And I did a bit of investigation and found that a guy up in Queensland near Toowoomba, who had an old rice mill and was able to process it for me. And I sent it up there and we got three tonne, 3 big bulk bags of brown rice. And I thought I don’t think we can eat all this, so…. [laughs]. So I was doing the markets at that time. This is probably going back five years now the markets were going really well with the pecans.
So we took the five hundred gram pecan bag and fitted a kilo of rice and we made a little cheap label on the computer. I took fifty kilos down and sold in half an hour. And I thought we’re on to something here, this is fantastic. Next week I took a hundred kilos and it sold. And I thought this is great. This is, this is really good. And again five years ago people were really starting to get into low food miles and eating local and the grains are the things that were the hardest thing for people to eat here. And the fact that we were growing brown rice here, I felt like a god, you know. People were just really amazed. And so it’s just gone from there the rice. We have expanded the crop every year and it’s just getting bigger and bigger. So it’s great. And again it’s so gratifying to go to a market and people will say this is the best rice I have ever eaten. You know it’s fantastic. And also it feels good to be doing something really good and sustainable, growing a local crop, a staple. Brown rice is a staple, especially in this area. I suppose that’s another, back to the that side of it, I sort of look back at that, those first few days and I thought if I can’t sell brown rice in Byron Bay, I should go home [laughs]. The whole thing that we’re growing it as sustainably as we can and it’s not travelling anywhere and it’s a staple for people. That side of it is really, that’s probably becoming more prominent for me as well. That it’s doing a really good thing for the community really.
And so you don’t want to go with Sun Rice and sell to them or anything? And is it important for you then to be selling your stuff locally or can you see it expanding and, and distributing it outside the area?
Frank: Principally I’d prefer to sell, sell everything locally. I could really see it all comes back to price, especially rice, because it’s a staple people are very price conscious with it. But I don’t think I could grow enough rice to supply this area, within a hundred kilometres of where we live. You see how much rice is sold, basically I’d much refer to sell it locally. We send some to Sydney and some to Brisbane. There’s co-ops, sort of small co-ops, small shops that sell it for me but, no I suppose it’s not worth my while to sell it to Sun Rice.
And so is it viable? You know what you are doing at the moment, can you, do you need to continue to expand, or is it, are there other things you might be doing in the future? Considering what was happening for your dad and then the issues around farming generally and the overheads on food.
Frank: Because we are direct marketing it’s worthwhile. It’s probably only a certain level you can get to. But I suppose we were in the right place at the right time as well. The local food market is growing rapidly. People are becoming of more aware of how their food is produced and where it comes from. I think that’s really changed in the last five years. I’ve really seen a big difference in that. And that changed people’s buying attitudes. They’re more than happy to pay a little bit extra for something that’s been produced ethically and with the environment in mind more than just the cheapest you can get.