Andrew Scholl and his brother David are fifth-generation farmers, living and working on the family property in the Fassifern Valley, at the end of a road bearing the family name. Andrew and his wife, Theresa, purchased the property from Andrew’s parents sixteen years ago. The Scholls grow vegetables and herbs, which they wash and bunch, ready for market. Since 2001 the Scholl family have also owned and operated Ants Fruit Market, and, after moving further up the road on High Street, Boonah, in March 2015, they opened Dave’s Deli, offering eat-in or takeaway meals. In addition, the Scholls supply processed vegies to clubs, pubs, restaurants and hospitals, straight from the family farm. Fresh beetroot and silverbeet are their mainstay. (www.facebook.com/AntsFruitMarket)
ANDREW & DAVID SCHOLL
Did you grow up in the Scenic Rim?
ANDREW: This is a fifth-generation farm. We’ve been here all our lives.
DAVID: We both grew up on the farm. Andrew has bought the farm since. I moved off and then came back.
So the property would have been settled in the 1800s?
ANDREW: It would have to be a fair way back. They shifted from Ma Ma Creek, which is where they first settled from Germany, and then they bought here, not long after.
DAVID: Perhaps 1860? Something like that.
ANDREW: Theresa and I have been married for sixteen years. That’s when Theresa and I bought it from my mum and dad. We’ve slowly grown bigger.
What did your parents grow?
ANDREW: In those days, it was more like your processed canned green beans and peas. It was fairly big in this area at that stage. Probably, you’d find the bigger farmers grew bigger, so the smaller ones were pushed out. Supply and demand. There’s only so much demand for stuff here.
Why did you choose to produce bunched vegetables?
ANDREW: You make a lot more money because it is fiddly, and the bigger growers can’t do it because it is very labour intensive.
DAVID: And you don’t need a big acreage. Fifty acres can grow lots of bunches of stuff.
ANDREW: We only have about eighty acres all together. We have probably outgrown the farm a little bit, but, with smaller stuff, you can grow a lot of product in a small area. That’s why we went that way. Over the last five years, we’ve grown bigger. It has been good for us.
How do you decide what to grow?
ANDREW: I buy for my shop as well. We have had the shop for fifteen years, I think it is. I’ve been buying twice a week for it. I am in the market and I see how trends are going, what is taking off. With kale, it was big money. It was $4 a bunch when it first started; then, as you get more growers, the price plummets down. Probably what helped is when the chain stores picked it up. So, the price has been pretty level at around $2. Then, the gold beetroot, it was the same. Probably when it first started it was $4 a bunch, and now it is about $2.50 to $3. I just look for things that are taking off, that restaurants want. We do a lot of pubs and restaurants as well — wholesale. And you get to talk to chefs and hear what they’re wanting, so we look for that kind of stuff. We see if we can do it and if there’s money in it, then we go that way.
So, you wear different hats?
ANDREW: I have two different businesses: the farm and the shop. I have the luxury of getting to meet people across the board. I am a grower, as well as a supplier of fruit and veg.
Do you grow herbs?
ANDREW: We do coriander and parsley. The parsley is pretty good. We do a special style of parsley, so we get a premium price for it. We’ll try something, and if we can’t make enough money out of it, we’ll put it aside.
Who inspires you?
ANDREW: When I first got going, I was very small. But Theresa’s grandfather — that’s how we got into bunching. They used to do a lot of onion bunches and that kind of thing … parsley bunches. They used to be very small and make a lot of money out of two or three acres. That’s where we got started. Then we jumped across to silverbeet and that kind of stuff. It is a bit more broadscale and you need a bigger operation.
Tell us about your day.
DAVID: Start at six. We always pick the vegies early in the morning. We have to be finished by ten as it gets too hot. Anything that needs to be picked in the field has to be picked early, and then we send everyone back to the shed. Then they’re packing up for the rest of the day down there. They’re washing, bunching and then — I manage the farm, so while they’re doing that, I irrigate. Tractor work. We knock off at five o’clock.
ANDREW: Then, if I have to do an order — because I am chain-store oriented — if they give me some fairly big orders at the last minute, well, then we’ll probably push on to seven. Not very often and only if we have to. I like to finish at five because if you start at six it is a very big day.
DAVID: You’ll find by that time the workers are starting to slow down anyway.
What do you like about the lifestyle?
ANDREW: The thing that draws you to my side of it — because I own the place — is the flexible hours. That’s the difference: being the owner of the place. I don’t particularly like working for anyone else. I like to do my own thing. It is very hard work. When I grew up, we were very, very poor. That side of things is very tough. But, lately, it has been pretty good.
DAVID: We don’t have big bosses on our backs telling us to do this, do that, do this, do that. We just do our jobs for the day and get stuff done.
ANDREW: I just let him do what he wants.
DAVID: As long as I get the planting and growing done.
ANDREW: How things work: I say we’re going to plant this and then I leave it up to David.
You’ve had the fruit shop for about fifteen years and now you’ve decided to open a café …
Where we came from, the fruit shop wasn’t as big. We now supply retirement villages, restaurants, pubs, clubs and we do all the hospitals — we pre-cut all their vegetables. So, we have a pre-cut room. Over there, I just didn’t have the space. So, this became vacant. Too big of an area to just run a fruit shop out of. I thought, ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do?’ I wanted somewhere I can turn product into something else. Waste — we don’t have any waste. Any extra product goes into a ready-made meal. The busy housewife can come in to the deli and pick up something that is preservative-free. It is all made like you would cook it at home. All you have to do is take it home, reheat it and you’ve got dinner.
How is the deli going?
We can’t keep up, to be honest. I am not blowing my own trumpet. The community has a lot of older people. You find a lot of people who are widowed or on their own are loving it because they can come in and pick something up. All these traditional old foods and people are loving it. We’ve gone into gluten-free in a massive way. And soups. People come in and take soup home, heat it up and have it with toast. Every week, we make three different soups throughout the week. We sell 200 pizzas here a week — not cooked, just made. We just can’t keep up.
I’ve always run the farm with Andrew. I’ve probably stepped back the last six months because I am here. It is like a new baby — you just can’t leave it.
Andrew told us your grandparents produced bunched vegetables?
My grandparents and my great uncle did bunch lines. Early on, we were hit by the biggest hailstorm at nine o’clock at night, and it wiped our whole farm out, the week before our wedding. So, that was a bit gut-wrenching. Pop came over and he basically said, ‘You need to change direction,’ to Andrew. ‘I want you to do this and we’re going to do that.’ And we tried it. We started growing beetroots. We’d sit in that shed and we’d do 200 bunches. Now he does 4000 bunches a day. Me and him sitting there, we’d do 200 bunches and go home at night absolutely shattered, and so excited we’d done 200 bunches. And so we went into all that bunching stuff — coriander, parsley, Dutchies … We don’t do anything the big farmers really do now.
It is all fiddly.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Farming isn’t for the faint-hearted. It is one of those industries.