A TIMID young German migrant has gone on to become one of the most dynamic olive producers in the state.
Now into her 70s, Gesine Owen’s passion and zest for producing deliciously ethical olives has only amplified.
But when this qualified nurse married a handsome young doctor, Colin Owen, some 40 plus years ago, she never dreamed she would be the driving force behind Inglewood’s Coolmunda Olives.
“But when you get married and have five children, you tend to need to be at home a little bit more,” she says.
“So I figured I would get involved in farming.”
Originally running a cattle stud, Gesine says her and Colin were really more “tree people.”
“I was always left home by myself and I just don’t like cattle,” Gesine laughs.
“Our type of country is very light and we always had to buy in feed and we seemed to be rolling from one drought to another.”
Like the intrinsic infatuation Aussies have with the meat pie (gross), Gesine’s European upbringing meant olive adoration was inbuilt.
But putting dreams into action was something Gesine admits took a heck of a lot of homework.
“It has really taken us years, and even now, I feel like we have only just got the planting and everything exactly right,” she says.
“Olives are pretty forgiving trees, but to get a good product out of them you have to water them and look after them.”
Which is exactly what Gesine does.
At a time when most of her peers are cruising steadily into their tea and crosswords era, Gesine is out in the grove planting, pruning, picking and pickling.
This peppy grandma loves working outdoors on the land and reckons “you have to lead from the top, otherwise you just don’t get anywhere.”
Making their labour process more arduous still, is the decision the Owen’s passionately made in 2007 to go Organic – a process she gets around by “corruptly bribing” her tribe of children and grandchildren to pitch in.
With light soil around Inglewood, Gesine believes it just couldn’t handle too much unnatural interference.
“It’s not that I am totally against poisons, but I just feel that it is hurting the land,” she says.
“We have the soil analysed and you just can’t afford to stick too many chemicals in there.”
Winning countless awards with their plump, moreish produce - something is certainly working in their favour.
“It is starting to appear that our end products do taste nicer. This year – our off year – the pit ratio of an olive has been amazing,”Gesine says.
And with this seasons olives the size – no joke – of small apricots, Gesine’s biggest challenge will be packing enough in the pickling jars.
You’d think that someone with Gesine’s experience would be lapping up the accolades, but not this humble farmer.
She says great olives come down to lots of love (and water).
“We’ve got the right climate here too. Even with five inches of rain I would have to water again next week because of the drainage,” Gesine says.
“It’s average soil, but for olives and other small crops, It’s pretty terrific.”
Gesine admits the support she has received from the Inglewood community has been outstanding, but her olives, oils and tapenades are making waves in the big smoke as well.
“I think it is very important that people start looking where they get their products from,” she says.
“We are really proud of the way we make our olive oil. The olives are picked, sent to the shed and put through the machine straight away – the result is so fresh and clean.”