Dreams of Kempsey organic produce distribution centre continues to grow

Story by Lachlan Leeming, The Land

Lachlan Leeming@LeemingLachie

2 Jul 2017

Sweet views: Marcus Skipper and Sally Ayre-Smith at their organic garlic farm in Dondingalong. Photo: Lachlan Leeming.

An ambitious plan is underway to transform a South Kempsey site into a distribution centre that will see organic food packaged in the Macleay before being sent around the country.

It’s a formidable goal, birthed more than a decade ago when film producer Sally Ayre-Smith and builder husband Marcus Skipper “ran away to the Macleay” to escape Sydney life.

With no background in agriculture, Sally completed a certificate three course on organic farming before the duo began growing organic garlic on their Dondingalong property.

They are now one of the biggest certified organic garlic farms on the Mid North Coast, producing seven tons of garlic a year.

“We decided to grow garlic because it was something we could both handle,” Sally explained.

“It was a way for us to make a living and be on the land.”

Tough views: The workers at this Dondingalong property process organic garlic on the stunning banks of the Macleay River. Photo: Lachlan Leeming.

Sally would go on to be a director of the Coffs Harbour-based Organic Marketing Company, which was “developed to help farmers who were skilled at farming, but not at marketing”.

From that organisation the idea was birthed for the distribution centre.

The South Kempsey site next to the Puma service station has already been purchased, with the centre expected to open by February 2018.

“We will be buying all the certified organic produce between the Queensland border and Sydney directly from the farmer, packaging it and sending it on to supermarket chains,” Sally explained, with a focus on smaller chains.

Sally said a distribution centre in the Macleay was a “no-brainer”.

Views: Travelling Chinese students, part of the WWOOF program (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), work in front of the picturesque Macleay River. They’ll work in the Macleay for several days before continuing their travels. Photo: Lachlan Leeming.

 “Kempsey needs something like this,” she said.

“The land is beautiful, there’s a supply of water, it’s smack bang between Brisbane and Sydney and it’s on the highway.”

Sally was glowing in her praise of Kempsey Shire Council’s Macleay Valley Food Bowl project, and the support offered by economic sustainability manager Susannah Smith.

“Our council is one of the most supportive, progressive and innovative councils when it comes to developing an area to grow food.”

The South Kempsey distribution centre is the first step in a grand vision for the Macleay.

She wants to see a school established educating young farmers on organic production.

“We want to get those farmers back on the land and show that young people can be on and land be part of growing food like this.”

She said the project points to an exciting future for the Macleay.

“It’s just brilliant.”