Hi! We grow delicious organic fruit with love on Djaara Country.

We are The Orchard Keepers – Hugh, Katie, and our team of friends, family, and volunteers taking stewardship of our organic orchard on Dja Dja Wurrung Country, in Harcourt, Victoria.

We are a member of the Harcourt Organic Farm Co-operative (more on HOFC below).

The orchard is home to almost 4,000 trees and almost 100 varieties of stone and pome fruit including cherries, apricots, plums, apples, and pears.

We see ourselves in a process of long learning about Country and place, our communities, and the orchard itself.

We are driven by a shared commitment to justice, solidarity, and care. We keep principles of food sovereignty, food democracy, adaptation to ecologies, and regenerative farming close to our hearts. We believe everyone should have access to good healthy food, and we are excited to put that belief into practice.

We aim to be transparent in all that we do, in growing beautiful, healthy food, connecting as closely as possible with the people who buy our fruit, all the while looking after each other and this special place.

History of the farm

Looking across peaches, plums and apricots in blossom at dusk. Photo by Ant Wilson

Where do we start?!

There has been orchard on this property for almost 150 years. It was one of the earliest orchards to be planted in the Harcourt valley after the land was stolen under colonisation. In the early days, it supplied fruit to the nearby goldfields.

We follow a long line of folks who have cared for this land and produced delicious food here. We’d particularly like to honour the original inhabitants, the Djaara people who cared for djandak (country) for many thousands of years.

The current owners Katie and Hugh took over the farm in 1998 from Katie’s dad Merv, who bought the farm in 1971. Merv was an educated and resourceful orchardist who introduced many innovations (such as piped irrigation) during his career.

Under K&H’s stewardship, the orchard became known as Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens and continued to evolve. They started by diversifying their plantings so they could take advantage of the emerging farmers market scene to sell their fruit directly to customers, and to provide more resilience against the vagaries of the weather and global heating.

Converting to organic production and becoming certified organic in 2008 was the next big change, and then after the devastating ‘big flood’ of 2011 they again expanded the business with more orchards and on-farm infrastructure, as well as diversifying into the online Grow Great Fruit teaching business.

When they were setting up the Harcourt Organic Farming Co-op (HOFC) in 2018, Katie and Hugh decided to take a step back from active farming and set about finding someone to lease the orchard.

The first lessee was Ant Wilson, who ran the orchard as Tellurian Fruit Gardens and introduced the CSA boxes as well as supporting the establishment of HOFC and the weekly Castlemaine Farmers Market.

Ant leased the orchard from 2018 to 2021. Ant is fuelled by a passion for working with nature and a desire to understand the food system. In 2016, Ant decided to become a farmer. With no background in farming, he decided the best way to learn was to spend some time living and working with the people already farming in an ecological way. After a few years of labour on various small-scale ethical farms (growing veggies, ducks, pigs, chickens, and more) he met Hugh and Katie and applied to lease their established fruit orchard. Ant’s aims are to build food sovereignty and resilient local food systems through farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture.

Which brings us to the first Orchard Keepers Collective (OKs) team of Yoann, Alex, Meg, Ingrid, Bri, and Rachel. This small collective of friends took over the farm in 2021 and changed the name to The Orchard Keepers. They retained the CSA program that Ant had set up and created many new partnerships in the community.

The first OKs team was driven by a shared commitment to justice, solidarity, and care, keeping principles of food sovereignty, food democracy, adaptation to ecologies, and regenerative farming close to their hearts. They were driven by a belief that everyone should have access to good healthy food.

The Orchard Keepers were a valued and loved addition to HOFC and they took their role as orchard stewards seriously. Two tough seasons with very high rainfall, plus managing the external pressures of mortgages, young children, partners, other jobs, and different interests proved too much, and they made the hard decision to cut their 3-year lease period short when it became apparent their lifestyles were not compatible with running an orchard.

Hugh and Katie are ‘back on the tools’ for the 2023/24 fruit season. It’s been an adjustment they weren’t expecting, but they’ve decided to embrace the opportunity!

Harcourt Organic Farming Cooperative

HOFC Members early 2022

The Orchard Keepers are proud to be a member of the Harcourt Organic Farming Cooperative (HOFC). HOFC is a collaboration of diverse organic farmers who lease land on a single farm in Harcourt. We are passionate about learning our craft, feeding our community, and making direct and meaningful connections with our customers, for example through Community Supported Agriculture.

Alongside The Orchard Keepers our fellow co-op members are:

  • Gung Hoe Growers—Mel Willard and Sas Allardice are the two hoes who make up Gung Hoe Growers. They grow real, dirty, food and build soil, belly laughs and veggie porn. They feed their local community through veggie boxes, a seasonal farm shop and various restaurants and cafes.
  • Sellar Farmhouse Dairy—Tessa Sellar runs a micro-dairy with the help of her partner Oli, milking 10 cows using sustainable farming principles, processed on-site into fresh milk, yogurt and butter. Sold locally through CSA subscriptions and farmers markets. Available 2019.
  • Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery—Under the mentorship of Merv Carr who has been grafting and budding heritage fruit trees for over 50 years, Katie Finlay and Liz Carr are continuing the tradition. Carr’s Organic Fruit Tree Nursery grows a huge variety of quality heritage fruit trees for sale in winter as barerooted trees.

The aim of HOFC is to make the farm as productive and profitable as possible, within a collaborative framework and using regenerative and organic principles. We’re looking for new members! Find out more here.

We reckon this new way of farming will be good for ageing farmers like Katie and Hugh who want to step back from active farming but don’t want to sell the family farm, for emerging farmers who want to get started but can’t afford land, and customers who are yearning for a connection to the farmers who produce their food.

See more about HOFC on the co-op website here.