Katie O’Neill and her partner Sam Chapman are relatively new to avocado farming. The couple are from Barham and Moulamein in southern NSW, however they’ve only recently moved home to be involved in the family farm after spending 17 years in Melbourne and other parts of Australia. We caught up with Katie to find out what led them back home to the country, why they chose to grow avocados and what a standard day looks like at the farm, ‘Murray Eden.’
Q. First things first, favourite avocado variety and why?
My favourites are the Reeds because of their size and creamy flavour. Looking forward to ours coming into production in a couple of years time.
Q. Can you give us a bit of background about your fathers farm ‘Murray Eden’ and how you came to be involved?
Murray Eden started out as a dairy farm in 1969. My parents took over in 1989 after my grandfather fell ill and they farmed in partnership with my aunt and uncle until last year. Around 5 years ago, my dad and uncle decided to diversify the dairy farm and began planting out a 32ha sandhill to avocados. Sam and I made the decision to move back to Barham in 2019. We both grew up on farms and wanted to raise our boys in the country and give them the same freedom that we enjoyed as kids. At the time, an extra staff member was needed for the orchard so Sam made a career change from being a diesel mechanic to being a farmer. I became involved in the bookwork and business aspects and also help out in the orchard every now and then, such as during Harvest.
Q. What varieties of avocados do you have at Murray Eden?
Primarily Hass, however we do have some Reeds and another licensed variety called Gem which are similar to a Hass in appearance but meant to be more productive with larger fruit size.
Q. What does a typical day on the farm look like for you both?
Sam is up early moisture testing, irrigating and fertigating. We are currently preparing to plant the final stage of avocados in October so there is plenty of prep work to do: drilling post holes, forming banks and irrigation systems etc. Outside of the farm I work as a town planner / project officer so my day is usually spent between these roles however I also help out through the week with farm payroll and other duties such as recording data on the orchard, business planning, looking for grant opportunities etc.
Q. Farms are rewarding… and hard. What would you say the most rewarding aspect of farming avocados has been? And on the flip side, what’s been the biggest challenge?
The most rewarding aspect is having avocados on tap for at least three months of the year and living alongside a beautiful orchard with space for the kids to roam and explore. The most challenging aspect is that there is always something to do on a farm and it can be hard to switch off.
Q. How come the avos from Barham are sooooo good?
My dads theory is that it has something to do with the extreme temperatures that we have here. Both extreme heat and cold which might enhance the flavour somehow….or maybe we are just biased.
Q. What is your top avo tip?
If you cut one in half always leave the seed in the uneaten half as it stops the fruit from going brown.
Q. Favourite avo recipe?
Smashed avo on toast with lemon, rocket and chilli flakes. Also, peruvian stuffed chicken avocados.
Q. Tell us a bit about Barham? We hear it is a bit of a food bowl?
Barham is part of a much wider farming district with diverse agriculture including dairy, horticulture, livestock, pastured eggs and broadacre cropping. There are lots of really innovative farmers here doing amazing things. We have a micro-abattoir about to be developed which will open up all sorts of exciting opportunities for local producers wishing to sell their own branded meat products. Our local supermarkets, cafes and community in general really throw their support behind local producers.