Ganmain farmer Kendra Kerrisk is serving up a healthy option for breakfast – preservative and additive free, fresh rolled oats.
Kendra produces a unique product in Australia under her Brushwoods label of dehulled oats, rolled and vacuum sealed fresh rather than dried, ensuring the oats retaining their original taste and flavour.
Brushwoods fresh oats were first launched over two years ago and was a state winner in the From the Earth category in the 2019 delicious.Harvey Norman Produce Awards.
A former dairy scientist, Kendra is enjoying her transition to food production.
“It is so satisfying to deliver a beautiful product and for people to rave about it,” she said.
Normally a producer of extra virgin olive oil, Kendra was keen to value add to other crops on the family farm, Pleasant Valley.
“We are price takers for all our other crops so could see the potential there – our wheat was not reliably high grade so I concentrated on oats as most people have porridge or use oats in baking,” she said.
“We haven’t been able to find anyone who can dehull our oats in small volumes so we bought dehulled oats from a Gunnedah mill, and now roll and package them on-farm.
“As we grow the business to a turnover of at least 10 tonnes a year, then we can start dehulling our own oats.
“We source matika oats from northern Victoria and vacuum seal them rather than dry them.”
Kendra received positive feedback from friends when trialling the fresh product, encouraging her to take it to market.
“When an oat is dried, it has a slightly nutty taste whereas a fresh oat has a naturally sweet flavour,” she said.
“Porridge made with fresh oats and water is really creamy.
“A nutritional analysis shows little difference as at the end of the day they are still the same base product, but quantifying the bioavailability of nutrients in a fresh oat is the next step.”
Oats contain a gluten protein called avenin.
“Not all coeliacs are affected by avenin but one in five are, so from an Australian food labelling law we have to declare oats have a type of gluten,” Kendra said.
“We market them as fresh oats and once opened, they need to kept in the fridge or freezer.”
The oats are ideal for making granola, muesli bars, slices or biscuits.
Brushwoods exhibited at Henty’s Farm Gate pavilion for the first time last year, receiving positive feedback on the product.
“This year at Henty we will have our Brushwoods fresh rolled and steel cut oats, and groats, for taste testing and sale, plus a range of skin care products and soap made from olive oil,” Kendra said.
Brushwoods oats are available from regional retail outlets in Coolamon, Ganmain, Wagga Wagga, and Narrandera.
“When I beg people to support Australian farmers or buy Australian product, it’s not because I personally want them to buy Brushwoods but I want our industries to be sustainable,” Kendra said.
“I want to know in the future I can buy fresh milk, seasonal vegetables and fruit, and I don’t have to buy imported product produced under different food safety regulations.
“I want to know we don’t have to eat food produced in a laboratory or supplement our diet with pills and potions because our food is not nutritionally good enough for us any more.
“To me those things are really important but a lot of people don’t realise how close we are to losing some of our industries.
“I need lots of other families to care about this as well so we can keep these industries going.”
A dairy scientist, Kendra and her family relocated from New Zealand to Australia allowing her to work in the specialist research field of robotic milking at Sydney University.
The Kerrisks invested in four farms in the Riverina, leasing them out for several years followed by sharefarming agreements.
One of the farms, “Pleasant Valley”, near Ganmain, had an established 4.8ha olive grove.
The family were driving down from Sydney on weekends to manage the olive grove but made the decision to move to Pleasant Valley permanently in early 2018.
The 17-year-old grove is planted to the oil varieties of manzanillo, Hardy’s mammoth, Wagga verdale and frantoio.
“We knew nothing about olives and didn’t buy it for the olive grove – the fact it was an award winning olive grove made me say it would be a shame to bulldoze it,” Kendra said.
“In 2014 we brought in a picking and pruning crew to get the grove back into shape.
“The grove is too small to produce a specific oil so we do a blend each year, with any left over oil made into soap.”
The first harvest of 2015 was pressed at Wollundry Grove, Wagga, and produced just 17 litres or 34 bottles.
One bottle was entered in the 16th Australian Golden Olive Awards, winning a silver medal.
The 2016 harvest resulted in 500 litres and a bronze medal in the Australian Olive Association national competition.
“Each year from there we have entered the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show as our market is predominantly NSW,” Kendra said.
“Last year we used a mechanical tree shaker and harvested 1500 litres while this year the drought affected crop resulted in just 10 per cent of trees producing fruit, yielding 25 litres.”
Kendra said customers were understanding of the seasonal nature of farming.
“We said to our customers we have appreciated your retail space until now and we encourage you to fill those spaces with other Australian olive oils while we are out of production.”