Young farmer takes on the family secrets
Wide Bay Rural Weekly has kicked off a new series, Growing Our Future, which aims to highlight some of our region's young farmers and ag workers who are leading the industry - and the food we eat - into the future. First up is Redridge Farms' Ash Emerick, 23.
ON THE drive south from Bundaberg to Childers, it is hard to miss the figs on Redridge farm at Alloway.
They are not like your typical rambling wild fig trees.
The Emerick family keeps them neatly trimmed in tight rows and tightly controlled conditions to keep supply of the sweet, soft fruit going all year round.
"We've gone the high density option to try and fit more in," farmer Ash Emerick explains to foodies who have come for a tour of the property.
"We grow them in the greenhouse during winter and every year we replace those trees."
Inside the modified hothouse lies the secret to the success of Forbidden Figs, the farm's premium brand, which feeds demand for the highly perishable fruit through the winter months.
Without it, the season would run from December to May.
"Everything we've figured out is in my head or dad's head," Mr Emerick said.
"It's been a whole lot of trial and error with each season."
Tomatoes and avocados are also grown at Redridge but with the figs they say they have a niche market cornered.
"There's not a large fresh market; the majority from the Middle East and the Americas is dried," he said.
He estimates three million figs will be picked this year.
They are not the easiest of fruits to grow and transport, not least because of their short shelf life, which can limit how far they travel.
"It's a challenge and it's been hard work - not so much for me but for dad, who (developed it) while I was in school.
"From our first tree to where we are now, we have 45,000 trees outside and can grow up to 18,000 inside."
Mr Emerick, 23, spent a year off working as a labourer and said it made him appreciate life on the farm. He is one of a precious group of young farmers returning to the land.
With the average age of Australian farmers around 58, he said his generation was an important source of fresh ideas in the industry.
"I was excited to come back and get into it because I found out it's really what I want to do," he said.
"It's rewarding watching something you put in the ground produce its money's worth.
"Meeting other young farmers, it's surprising; there are quite a few fellas my age getting back into family farms and working in management roles too."
If you know a young farmer or ag worker with a story to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.