Turnip & MFM: Kiwifruit

In this month’s collaboration of Turnip with the Melbourne Farmers Markets, we are sorting out ways to help you fight off winter colds. The kiwifruit is chockers with vitamin C – the reason why it’s a winter fruit – and we had a chat to Ian Cuming of Beenak Farm in Hoddles Creek, east of Melbourne, who grow their kiwis using biodynamic methods and sell through the MFM every winter. Stay warm!
What do you love about kiwifruit? 
We don’t just like kiwifruit because we grow them.  Anne and I like it that people are still getting to know this fruit and we have many conversations about how they are grown, how they can be used and the health benefits.  
The people who buy from the markets seem to include the couples with children and older customers who are aware in particular of the Vitamin C (which is higher than citrus fruit) and mineral content. We have a sign which says “one a
day is enough” – unless you are pregnant – when two will do.
As for growing them, they are a fair amount of work over the winter period when they are harvested, pruned and sold during the coldest part of the year, but we find it suits our needs and we can get away in summer as long as we have someone to keep an eye on things, in particular the watering.
How many types of kiwifruit do you grow and do you have a favourite?
We grow only one variety – Hayward – and it is a fairly old variety named after one of the New Zealand nurserymen who developed the seeds brought from China in the early years of last century.   They used to be called “Chinese Gooseberries” or “vegetable mouse” (souris vegetales) by the French because they came from the Yang-tse valley in Southern China.   They have a sweet/tart taste which people appreciate.
The most common question we are asked at the markets is: “do you grow the gold ones?”   Some customers want a sweeter type with not so much hair on the fruit, but most like the slightly wild taste and don’t mind the hairy skin.   We encourage them to eat it skin and all.   I really only eat the ones we grow and they are our favourite, but there are other new interesting varieties, mostly imported.
Was biodynamic farming something that you have always committed to and what are the benefits of this type of farming for your fruit and your land?  
I have been interested in Biodynamic farming since the seventies, when I went to agriculture school in the UK to learn about it.   That led to an apprenticeship and ten years farming on the North York Moors as a dairy farmer.   When we came back to Australia, a farm was for sale near my children’s school in the Yarra Valley, so we started growing kiwifruit.  The Biodynamic method makes total sense when you consider sustainability, health and nutrition.   We have worked on our soil for fifteen years and use no fertilisers or biocides and consider that our vines growing in healthy soil will provide balanced and naturally sourced nutrition when people eat our fruit.   Our costs are kept low as we have set up the farm as a self-contained organism and don’t have to buy in anything much from outside the farm.   Everything is re-cycled and we keep to the strict conditions of our Nasaa Biodynamic certification.
The most obvious result of this method of farming is the enhanced taste and keeping quality of the fruit and it is easy to contrast these qualities with kiwis purchased from other sources (and countries).
We don’t talk like winemakers, but what we are underlining is what they call “terroir” and the point can be made that people are starting to understand when they see it in the wine and coffee context.  
How long have you been involved with the Melbourne Farmers Market and if could tell people two to three points about why it’s good to buy seasonal and local produce what would they be?  
 I can’t quite remember when we started to sell in the Farmer’s Markets, but I think it was 2004.   At first it was a matter of finding out different ways of selling the fruit (retail is better than wholesale price, but more work), but I realised that people were attracted to farmer’s market for reasons other than just supermarket convenience.  In fact, they had realised that there was a point in coming to talk to someone who had grown the fruit and to finding out about other more subtle things not obvious when one purchases from Coles and Woolies.   They want to know:
  • Where do kiwis come from and how they grow?   They are often surprised to find that they are a vine and not a tree, that they are dioecious (there is a female and a male plant) and that they grow in Victoria (for some reason they think that because they have seen them on pavlovas, that the fruit is tropical).   This gives us the chance to bring up the subject of “food miles” and point out that if they buy them in summer, they are probably coming from Italy, Chile or California.   Just think of the sustainability of that!
  • When is the Australian season?   That steers the conversation to the direction of seasonal eating.   Kiwifruit is a WINTER fruit and provides a natural and much needed nutrition boost at the coldest time of year. You don’t need vitamin C pills if you eat naturally grown produce (kiwis, citrus, vegetables etc).   It is also worth noting that conventionally-grown equivalents are lacking these benefits.   We now have regular customers who say that they are glad we are back in the markets and that they have been avoiding kiwis at other times of year.
  • What is the difference between organic and biodynamic growing?   This is a long conversation, but I can tell them that it has to do with sustainability and food security and that naturally grown food is good nutrition. Over the years, customers have become much more interested in their food and where it comes from.   It is a long process, but they pass what you say on to their children and friends.   Of course it is good for business, but it is more important that these other things are known as we become more conscious of the way the world is going.   It is much more easy to make the connection to the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef if you understand that you can contribute to the health of the environment by eating Biodynamic food.

How do you enjoy kiwifruit? Can you share any serving tips or recipes? 

We tell people to cut them in half and eat them like that with a spoon.   Eating them raw preserves all the vitamins and enzymes which are sometimes destroyed by cooking.   We also point out the fact that there is an enzyme which can act on protein to soften meat.   This is a matter of cutting the fruit into thin slices and mashing it together with the meat in a plastic bag.   It comes with a warning not to leave it too long as the meat (especially fish) may get too soft.   Great, however for cheap cuts!   My next favourite is a kiwi or kiwi and apple crumble (usual recipe, just substitute kiwi for other fruit).  The next suggestion is to add it to a daily juicing regime, skin and all.

If the customer has the energy, we can progress to kiwi sorbet: Dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar in 2 cups of water, add zest and juice of one lemon.  Chill.   Peel, mash and sieve about 6 kiwis and combine with cold sugar syrup.   Freeze until mushy, beat well and re-freeze until stiff.

Serves about 6

Beenak Farm

Melbourne Farmers Markets 

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