The taste of things to come

Richard Kalina, a British photographer-turned-farmer, never planned to become a celebrity member of the organic food movement when he moved to Australia.

Richard Kalina, a British photographer-turned-farmer, never planned to become a celebrity member of the organic food movement when he moved to Australia.

He had never grown anything when he bought Berridale farm near the Blue Mountains village of Blackheath in 2004 after spotting it on the internet from London. It was meant to be a laidback lifestyle purchase.

But a chance 2006 meeting over some Berridale white raspberries with chef Peter Gilmore from the three-hatted Quay restaurant has seen the 20-hectare property turned into a cool-climate organic oasis growing 35 varieties of heritage fruit and vegetables that have become a fixture on the menus of Sydney's finest eateries.

The likes of Quay, Rockpool, est., Sepia, Guillaume at Bennelong and Aria feature Mr Kalina's rare heirloom radishes, aubergines, onions, tomatoes, artichokes, pea seedlings, fennel, turnips, broccoli, carrots, plums, pears, currants and berries. The only thing more beautiful than the way they look is the way they taste.

Mr Kalina now has Berridale on the market because he has been offered a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to produce organic food on a much vaster scale at the Eden Project in England, but his success story and the interest already shown by potential buyers in his business is symbolic of the health of the organics industry in Australia.

The 2012 Organic Market Report released on Friday paints a picture of organics becoming increasingly "mainstream" and professional instead of a fringe cottage industry, although it still only accounts for about 1 per cent of total retail market value. The industry is worth $301 million a year to farmers.

The report found that in the year to May, 65 per cent of adults had bought at least one organic product. That was up from 40 per cent in 2008. And more than 1 million regularly buy organic products.

"Three out of four organic purchase experiences are now at big supermarket chains, underscoring a continuing 'mainstreaming' of organic products," said the report, compiled by Melbourne's Swinburne University and market research firm Mobium for Biological Farmers of Australia and Horticulture Australia.

The growth in the number of organic farmers has stalled, but the farm-gate value of organic produce has risen 34.7 per cent over two years. "The organic industry is continuing to mature and the average size of organic farms has increased, highlighting a trend towards professional farming on a large scale." the report said.

The value of organic vegetable sales was down on two years ago, but beef had witnessed spectacular growth, with farm-gate sales up 111 per cent and lamb up 64 per cent. Even milk sales have grown strongly, despite organic milk selling for two to three times the price of conventional milk.

Andrew Monk, one of the report's authors, said price was still the big barrier to more people buying organic food, but the accessibility of organic produce had massively improved.

"I've just come from the supermarket and bought some [organic] spuds and a few other things. A few years ago that was bloody hard to do on a consistent basis," he said.

Andre Leu, the chairman of the Organic Federation of Australia, said the report showed that the organics industry in Australia boasted one of the highest growth rates in the world.

Mr Leu also said the report helped explode the myth that organic consumers were mainly wealthy people.

"They are the average mums and dads," he said. "We find people become organic consumers when they become parents and they suddenly become very concerned about what goes into their children. In places like Germany it's almost impossible to buy non-organic baby food."

A spokesman for Woolworths said organic sales were growing "at an exponential rate" compared to other fresh food and groceries, with baby food a particular standout.

Woolworths stocks about 400 organic items and while organic products used to be restricted to supermarkets in inner-city areas of higher socio-economic status, they are now in every store.

For Mr Kalina, the early years of organic farming were a "nightmare" of toil and heartbreak thanks to drought, hail, disease and pests.

"[It was] the steepest learning curve in the world ... but we've made it work. My first delivery to Sydney was $36 worth of produce. That was to Peter Gilmore - pea seedlings. In the first week of January this year I delivered $10,257 worth of produce to Sydney. This coming season ... I will double that. Whoever takes this on ... in two years' time, you could be doing a million dollars a year.

"The future should be organic and local and seasonal and sustainable. It just makes things taste better."

Going mainstream

3 out of 4 organic purchase were made at major supermarket chains


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