Joseph and Joanne Monsour’s Roadvale garlic business is a true family affair.
Joseph’s uncle provided the original seed stock. The growing method has been adapted from his Lebanese ancestors, with input from his mother Chahla. When it’s time to harvest, the couple is joined in the paddock by their daughters and many of Joseph’s relatives.
The Monsours never set out to grow garlic commercially.
Joseph is a tax accountant who has always kept a small vegetable patch to supply family and friends and initially that’s where his garlic crop went. But each year as his crops yielded more Monsour realised the time would come when he would have to get serious about selling.
That time arrived in 2009 and coincided with a strong consumer demand for Australian-grown garlic, which is said to be stronger, fresher, more pungent and better for you.
The Australian garlic industry once boasted about 700 growers but the rise of cheap Chinese imports in the early 1990s caused many growers to leave the industry. It is now estimated there are only about 30 growers in Australia.
Joseph isn’t sure of the exact origin of his garlic seed but believes it’s a variety called Italian Pink.
“It was mum who really introduced us to garlic,” says Monsour.
“As a family we’ve always used a lot of garlic. When she first arrived in Australia in the early 1950s she says you couldn’t get garlic here.
“Our seed originally came from my uncle and then we started putting a little bit aside each year to build up seed stock. We’re limited with land but we try to get about two-tonne a year.”
Monsour says the way he operates is in direct contrast to the size and scale of big agri-business. He prefers to supply a niche market and keep his operation at a size that is manageable for him and his family.
“I like growing things and when I retired from my job in local government I had more time to devote to this,” he says.
“There’s a niche market for garlic.”