The Grain Family
Gareth, Tonia and Ida inspecting their organic crop on-farm at Moltema, northern Tasmania. Pictures supplied
SMALL-SCALE certified organic farmers Gareth Shapiro and Tonia Gretschmann have spent the past decade living out their passion for growing, harvesting and processing grain and seed crops.
Making the move to Moltema from Hobart in 2013, the pair hoped to raise their then one-year-old daughter Ida close to her grandparents - owners of iconic ethical dairy Elgaar Farm.
What entailed was a deep-dive into the ins and outs of grain growing with the couple setting up a share-farming operation with Elgaar, which today covers 8 hectares of the 160ha property.
"I'd been working on farms for the previous six years [and] Elgaar dairy had previously grown grain," Gareth said, adding the farm already had most of the machinery required to grow crops, "but not much time to do it".
Gareth said his fascination for grain growing was initially satiated through working at Elgaar Farm and, after two years of learning on the job, the families decided to separate the enterprises.
"[This allowed] us freedom to experiment and invest in different machinery and processing equipment [and] allowed us, as a family, to live and work in the same place and show our daughter all the great things that come from that," Gareth said.
Dubbing themselves 'The Grain Family', the pair process and mill grain in small batches every Thursday, providing a range of fresh flour, rolled oats, pasta, whole grains and seeds directly to shops, restaurants and customers at local farmers markets across the state.
"100 per cent of everything produced is directly sold to our customers in Tasmania," Gareth proudly stated.
This year, and for the first time, the couple are resting their paddocks and so will purchase wheat, purple wheat, rye, buckwheat, Khorasan, oats, barley and spelt from crops grown close by at Elgaar Farm for use in The Grain Family products.
"Next season, I hope to grow a larger area of a whole bunch of different wheat varieties, all mixed together," Gareth said.
Battling extreme wet weather earlier in the year, followed by an unseasonably dry summer, Gareth said the current season had been "a tricky one".
"Most things have been harvested and, with a few exceptions due to water-logging, it's been a pretty good harvest."
The growing season has also provided a surplus of purple wheat which Gareth and Tonia are hoping will be embraced by locals looking to add something a little different to the usual fare.
Originating in Ethiopia, the stunning grain is known for being highly nutritious and packed with antioxidants.
"It bakes beautifully and even retains its purple colour after baking...and tastes bloody good too."
Choosing a favourite of the many crops the farm grows, Gareth said spelt and Khorasan wheat were among his top picks.
"I love spelt because it always comes up beaut, yields pretty good whatever the season and grows tall but can be a pain to sow," he said.
"Khorasan, on the other hand, is a little finicky but [is] hands-down the most beautiful crop to look at in the field when it's blowing in the wind."
No day the same
Working to grow seasonal, certified organic grains for Tassie customers, Gareth said the main focus was on providing "the best possible product with the highest ethics".
"There is no average day [and] that's what I love," he said.
"It's small. We do everything ourselves. Paddock prep, sowing, weeding, harvest, drying, sorting, storing, seed saving, milling, rolling, distribution, selling. It changes before I get bored."
Gareth added the variety of farm work, being your own boss, avoiding the '9 to 5' and working in harmony with the seasons, weather and soil were just a handful of the reasons why he loves tending to the land and farming great food for their local community.
"The word of mouth feedback we get from people over the years saying they can't go back to shop bought flour. That's pretty great," he said.
The choice to keep their cropping small-scale and focus on soil health hasn't wavered over the past 10 years and Gareth said this won't change anytime soon.
"[We will] stay as small as we can so we can continue to balance work with family life. No expansion unless I suddenly find myself with nothing to do...not likely!"
For more information about The Grain Family or to take a look at their delicious, homegrown products in their online shop, visit: thegrainfamily.com.au
*First published May 2023 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.