United front for growers
Picture: Iain Gillespie

Every time he wakes up on his property, which is halfway between Pemberton and Manjimup and surrounded by towering forests on three sides, Rick Scoones knows he made the right decision.

Three years ago, the former marine biologist started the ultimate tree change and - without a farming background - decided to try his hand at growing garlic.

Garlic is not traditionally grown in the region, with just a handful of producers embarking on growing programs in the past few years. Yet, such was their faith in their ability to make a decent living from the region's loam-rich soils, that last May, Mr Scoones and his wife Barbara Loessl finally took the plunge, selling everything and making a permanent move to the Southern Forests region.

"The rat race was no longer attractive and I'd always wanted to try farming," Mr Scoones said. "I don't have a farming background but I have an environmental science background and worked in aquaculture for many years, so I knew we could bring a scientific approach to farming."

Despite leaving behind a well-paid position, and swapping standard office hours for an average 50 to 55-hour week, the successful harvest of almost 10 tonnes of top-quality purple garlic last season made it all worthwhile. The decision to buy custom-built machines from France to split the bogs in the soil, sort and plant the cloves and even brush down the sorting tables, meant the couple could get by with just two backpackers for a few hours a day during the seven-month harvesting season.

With their product already selling at the Bunbury Farmers Market, the search for new markets has started.

"We'd love to see our product on the chopping boards of chefs from Perth's top restaurants," Mr Scoones said.

By the time Easter rolls around, the couple, along with their two French backpackers, will start their third growing season, which spans from April until late November. After higher-than-expected rainfall and little sunshine last September, they are hoping for a much better commercial crop to sell to the Perth markets this year.

"We want our product to be as good as it can be. In that way we are no different to other growers in the area that have been here for generations - we want to be consistent, and we won't let a second-rate product on to the shelves."

It's a sentiment shared by Northcliffe born-and-raised farmer David MacDonald, who has also tried his hand at raising garlic for the past two years.

Last season he and his partner Catrin Iversen produced a tonne of high-quality purple garlic, under their JaHa label using a clean-and-green approach.

"Best of all is that you know that it's locally grown and where it's coming from - it comes from a pristine part of the world and the flavour is fantastic," Mr MacDonald said.

The West Australian

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