The Hemler farm is almost a one hour drive along the Araluen Road from Moruya. The road mostly hugs the river and when it opens out onto broad paddocks you know you have reached the farm. Peach and nectarine orchards are visible as you bump across the paddocks to Luke’s vegetable garden.
Luke confesses that he and school didn’t really get along. It was his father who told him to have a go at growing some vegies. Luke had a vegetable garden since he was a little kid and he was only 14 when he first had a go at small scale commercial growing. He did an on-farm training course through Goulburn TAFE when he was 16 and he hasn’t looked back.
As the fourth generation on the farm, it is in his blood. The farm produces cattle, stone fruit (Luke owns a third of the orchards with his father and uncle) and now vegetables. The vegie beds are within 7 acres of riverflats next to one of the most beautiful stretches of the Deua River. The irrigation licence makes both the orchards and the vegetables possible.
Since he started growing on a commercial scale, Luke has been on a very steep learning curve, but through hard work and determination he now has a thriving business, with farmers markets at its very heart. As well as the SAGE Farmers Market, he attends both Sunday markets in Canberra. “It’s not that far from here, and compared to the price you get wholesale, it’s really worth it,” he said.
Around 50% of the peaches and nectarines are now sold locally compared to almost none a few years ago when the whole crop went to Sydney markets.
Apart from the odd pallet that might now go to Sydney, all of the vegetables from the farm are sold locally (including Canberra, which is only 75 km away in a direct line). “If I was selling my vegetables wholesale, I wouldn’t be able to make a go of it,” said Luke. “The returns are just not there.”
As well as the farmers markets he attends, Luke sells directly to local IGA supermarkets (although not Moruya) and to Southlands Fruit and Vegetables in Moruya. He loves the fact that the SAGE Farmers Market is on a Tuesday, because he picks every day, and it gives him a mid-week market.
The feedback from customers is really important for Luke. “I like it when people say ‘I bought this fruit from you last week and it was the best peach I have ever tasted.’ It’s different from when you take produce into a shop and they just look for spots on your vegies.”