Cracking the ultimate lifestyle

Cracking the ultimate lifestyle

Life & Style
Michael Cameron and Jodie Carstens at their 2000-tree orchard in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Michael Cameron and Jodie Carstens at their 2000-tree orchard in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

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LIGHT cascades through the orchard tree leaves as speckled reflections dance on the soft earth below.

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LIGHT cascades through the orchard tree leaves as speckled reflections dance on the soft earth below. The resident ducks are hiding from an aggressive peahen as Jodie and Michael walk hand in hand.

"They won't come out of their shed when she's around," Jodie says as she grabs a handful of fallen macadamia nuts.

The couple are in the midst of their first macadamia harvest after moving to Talegalla Weir, north of Gympie, six months ago.

"Michael decided he wanted a macadamia farm," she says with a cheeky grin, as Michael chimes in, "Not at all."

The simple love for country life led the pair to buy the 2000-tree hinterland orchard and value-add food business Barenuts, which produces a range of gourmet nuts, macadamia butter and gluten-free treats for 50 stockists, from Bundaberg to the Gold Coast.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing for the pair, who originally looked at buying the 40-hectare property more than a year ago. "This place came up and included the value-added business, and it was at that moment I felt I could really leave my job because I'd still be doing something remotely in the field that I studied," Jodie said.

Originally, Michael planned to pursue cattle farming, but soon realised the financial constraints wouldn't allow it.

"It was a challenge in itself finding a macadamia nut farm, but the biggest challenge by far was finding a bank that would actually lend us the money - because unless the property is under 150 acres (61 hectares), then you need a 50 per cent deposit up front," he said.

"Unless you have a farm handed down in your family or you win lotto, you just don't have a chance. What sealed the deal for us was attempting to purchase a property in Brisbane and realising we had missed the boat.

"It just made this place look better and better, and we knew we had to snap it up while we could."

While the former owners were on hand to give Jodie and Michael a few pointers about the macadamia nut business, the pair have had to learn quickly.

"The best thing about the macadamia nut industry is that there's so much information out there and the people involved are incredibly helpful - it's completely different to anything I've experienced before," Michael said. "I've got a grower's handbook and it's about 2 inches thick, and that's just the start of it."

Jodie has embraced the opportunity to grow the Barenuts business, incorporating some of her own recipes into the mix.

"The previous owner taught me the methods of dry roasting and honey roasting and, once I felt comfortable, I started experimenting with my own flavours and that's been really fun.

"Our aim is to keep our products as 'bare' and natural as possible, like our new dry roasted lemon myrtle macadamias with natural lemon myrtle. It's that real taste of the bush and they've been received really well.

"I've got a communications degree - I'm no professional cook. I just know what flavours I like."

With more than 700,000 macadamia trees in the region, Barenuts is one of the smallest orchards processed, but that hasn't deterred the couple, who spend hours lovingly hand-making gluten, dairy and egg-free nuts and slices.

"The slices and nuggets have given the business another dimension and allowed us to expand into the ever-growing health-food space, which is exciting," Jodie said.

"Most days I am in the kitchen from 6am until late, but it's really easy to get absorbed in the work and become unattached to the outside world. That's what I love about it - the serenity of it all and really appreciating the world around you."

Without the need for intensive labour, Michael and Jodie are left to their own devices, using a simple attachment to a mower during harvest. "We dehusk our nuts here and then we take them to the co-op in Gympie where they are cracked, and we get them back to produce the Barenuts products in our commercial kitchen on the farm," Michael said.

"At the moment, our orchard doesn't process enough nuts to last us all year, so we'll buy nuts to cover us through that period."

The couple are hoping to harvest about 9 tonnes this year and, with a lot of patience and love, they could see that tonnage more than triple in the coming years.

"There's potential for 25t once the younger trees have fully matured," Michael said.

Growing up on an organic wheat farm in south-west Queensland, Michael understands the severity of drought and working through good and bad seasons

"We drip irrigate but we've been very lucky with the rain here since December and, coming from Goondiwindi, that's been a refreshing change. Being so close to the coast, you have a different rainfall here for sure but you are never dealing with constant dry conditions like you do out west."

Looking to settle in and grow their farm and business, the couple say they are most grateful for the support from the local community and fellow macadamia nut growers.

"This has definitely become our home and we couldn't dream of being anywhere else - it's just so beautiful when you get really low and look through the trees."

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