Part 1 - Small producer case study: Eagle Vale Olives

Awarded Australia’s best green table olives, Western Australian family-owned and operated Eagle Vale Olives is a niche farming success story.

They have built a business on supplying customers with quality local produce through knowing what their target audience wants.

Along the way they have learnt how marketing can work for them and why diversification can be the key to success.

Gerard and Leanne Bunter originally owned a freight business in Geraldton, but their interests were more in farming and living on the land. An illness in their family prompted them to research what crops they could grow that had health benefits and they discovered olives.

“During 1995 Gerard and I, along with my parents and our business partners Eric and Jill Dixon, eschewed the advice that olives would not grow in such extreme climates and planted 3000 trees in the Chapman Valley which is 470km north of Perth.

"We live in a Mediterranean climate to which the trees are adapted and we saw people growing them in their backyard in Geraldton so we thought, why not? Underground water in the Chapman Valley is plentiful — we sunk a bore and also built a 3785m3 catchment dam, " Leanne said.

Eagle Vale's first harvest was in 1997 and they started with the production of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). The quality surpassed their expectations.

"The warmer climate tends to produce mild oil and this gives us the flexibility to infuse it with different flavours.

"Confidence in what we had achieved to that point, drove our decision to diversify and introduce both green and black pickled table olives into the product mix. This was an important decision as the price of olive oil alone was not sustainable as a wage for four people.

"The 3 000 trees is not enough for our production requirements so we purchase olives from two other producers – one with 7 000 trees and another with 3 500,” Leanne said.

Harvest and production
Eagle Vale's harvest is during February and March where up to 30 staff are employed, mostly local, to hand pick the fruit. The process is labour intensive as every olive is hand graded for size and quality before they are put into tanks for treatment.

Between harvests part-time staff are employed to make the marinades and prepare the olives for pre-booked orders.
Once the hand picking is complete, harvesting olives for the production of EVOO begins.

"This is not as labour intensive as a machine is used, but the fruit must be crushed within 24 hours of harvest and therefore the timing of delivery to the Gingin crushing plant is critical.

"One tonne of oil is then backloaded to the farm where the oil is transferred into refrigerated air-tight vats to be filtered.''

"The final filtered product is then stored in a container which varies in size depending on the customer purchase order," Leanne said.

Healthy facts about olive oil
The health benefits of EVOO have long been researched and include:
• rich source of monounsaturated fats, which may reduce risks of heart and cardiovascular disease
• beneficial for the stomach, pancreas and intestines
• it may help lower bad cholesterol as it contains a wide variety of valuable anti-oxidants and it could also have a lowering effect on blood pressure
• contains a protective element which may lower the risk of several types of cancer including breast, colon, lung, ovarian and skin cancers
• helps with anti-ageing, osteoporosis and skin damage
• helps to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes
• may help support the immune system.

Believe it or not, but deep frying with olive oil can be healthy.

Renowned nutritionist Rosemary Stanton, along with food scientists have deemed the oil safe for deep frying when compared with other undesirable fats.

This is because olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats also comprising anti-oxidants and these substances can increase protection against cancer and heart disease.

When food is deep fried in olive oil at the right temperature (180C), the oil forms an outer crust, preventing further penetration of the oil into the food and stopping the vitamins from escaping.

Because less oil can penetrate, foods properly fried in olive oil have fewer kilojoules and a lower fat level than foods that are shallow fried.

Part 2: Quality the key, first pitting and slicing machine in Western Australia, grazing the grove, the drive to diversify, marketing - a full-time job.

This article is courtesy of WA small landholder service.

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