Be the Change Conversation with Sally Hookey

Author: BM Team
Issue 69

Be the Change Conversation with Sally Hookey

You may not even know what a Feijoa is and no one in Australia has had much success before with this crop. But Hinterland Feijoas have certainly been the change in their industry. Not only have they succeeded at growing the crop, but they have exceeded even their own expectations won award after award for their thinking outside the square attitude

. Life Matters catches up with Sally Hooker to find out more.

Tell us all about how you got started with Hinterland Feijoas?

We researched several crops and businesses for this property when we moved here in 2006 and settled on feijoas for their untapped market potential, suitability to the local climate and small scale production area. I grew up with feijoas and am addicted to their taste but Pete had never even tasted one, so had to be convinced of this strategy! We travelled to New Zealand to get some, see the marketing potential and talk to growers there. Luckily Pete was a convert straight away and the feijoa journey started the next year in 2007, when we ordered our first stock.

What are some of the products you make?

Our primary product is fresh certified organic feijoas. We are Australia’s only organic feijoa growers and are the first to market in both Australia and New Zealand, so have quite a market advantage. With all our smaller fruit, we make a wide range of value added products, in collaboration with local chefs. These include jams and chutneys, balsamic glazes, preserved fruit, gelato, chocolate and pulp.

What time of year is ‘in season’?

We are usually in full swing March and into the start of April, with some leeway either end for seasonal changes.

Where do you mainly sell to/export to?

We sell most of our crop (approximately six tonne per annum) direct to the public, either via our farm gate shop or by courier. We also love supplying local organic retailers if we have enough to share.

You have been the change within your industry, tell us about that?

We knew when we chose to grow a new crop, that we would have to establish a market as well as an orchard for this fruit. Everyone said we were mad to try feijoas here, that we would not succeed, and the fruit agents at the markets said straight out that they would not buy our fruit. That’s because they didn’t see the market potential. We did and took the risky step of backing ourselves. Now they call us, which is great!

In mentoring sessions we have often heard that the pioneers are not those to profit, that the next line of uptake will profit from the work of the pioneer. To an extent that’s right, as now that we have identified and established a market, it will be easier for other entrants but we know and have great relationships with our customers, and with our focus on quality and a wide range of products, we feel we have set the mark very high!

There is something else that I think you’ll find common to everyone you interview as change catalysts. We thrive on the challenge of mastering new ventures (and adventures) and will probably move onto new ventures with ease! There is massive growth left in our business as it stands, but we have already planted some test crops for the next new taste to come to Australia!

Tell us about the awards you have won?

We have been lucky enough to win four Sunshine Coast Excellence in Business awards in the last three years, including Small Business of the Year in 2012, and an inaugural Business Sustainability Award in 2014. In 2014, we were also sponsored by Slow Food Noosa to attend Slow Food’s International Conference in Italy as Australian delegates. This was an amazing forum for us, being able to talk to hundreds of other like-minded farmers and foodies, and listen to world leaders debate the issues facing food production all around the world. We travelled with Chef Matt Golinski and cheese-maker Trevor Hart, plus 26 Australian delegates from all around the country.

Share a little about your family?

Peter and I both grew up on farms, Peter on a broadacre farm near Kingaroy, and myself in sheep country near Canberra. My mum is an amazing preserver and baker and a very well-travelled cook, as is my Dad, who often made fresh potato yeast bread rolls for us on Sunday mornings for breakfast using an old southern American recipe. When I was in primary school we lived in New Guinea, where Dad taught law at the university in Port Moresby. I remember growing peanuts and eating all sorts of things, which probably explains the wide range of foods we enjoy and know about today, including feijoas! We were basically self-sustainable other than dairy. Pete’s mum is an awesome country baker, and no trip to Kingaroy is complete without mountains of special treats, including the famous Ginger Fluff cake.

I have two grown-up children off in the world now, and although as teenagers they didn’t really appreciate living out in the sticks and having to help out around the farm, they both really appreciate the quality of life and food they enjoyed, now that they are city folk. I can say they are resourceful and hard-working like most country kids and don’t take anything for granted. They absolutely loved it as young kids being able to race around the paddocks on their horses and motorbikes! Being connected to growing food and the land is the best possible lifestyle for kids.

Tell our readers something they may not know?

Most of our customers are feijoa addicts and crave the taste, but not many know how amazingly good they are for you. They are a South American fruit and are full of vitamin C and antioxidants, fibre, and some unusual vitamins like folate and potassium. The mix of vitamin C, fibre and folates makes them one of the best possible foods for pregnant women, and we do get plenty of requests from ladies with feijoa cravings! Once, one good husband made a 600 kilometre round trip to get some for his wife. We had to put in a few extra for such a good effort!