Homegrown goodness

Frank Verduci has been working on the family farm  — Verduci Market Gardens — in Cobram since he was a child.

Some things stay the same. He still loves cropping and gets a real kick out of watching his immaculately tended fruits and vegetables grow. But a lot has changed since the now 62 year-old and his father Alfredo Verduci worked side by side in the fields.“My dad bought the farm in 1963, and he started growing tomatoes.“In the 1970s, he went to stone fruit.”Today, with his own family assisting, Frank implements an intense and novel cropping regime which results in a myriad of species being harvested throughout the year.“I’ve never left the farm. I’ve been working with stone fruit for more than 40 years, at wholesale markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.“About ten years ago, I decided to do something different.“We started growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables so we can have an income all year round.“We are doing capsicums, cauliflowers, leeks, corn, green onions, and onions — to name a few.”“We do a lot of beetroot as well, a lot of kale, purple cauliflower, orange cauliflower, Romenesco cauliflower, leeks, celery, which are part of our autumn and winter lines.“We grow more than 45 different varieties of fruit and vegetables in winter, and over summer we would do about 25.”When it comes to stone fruit, the Verducis favour apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums.This season their largest crop is beetroot, with 30,000 plants sown.“We plant them all in stages, each month.”“We rarely go to the supermarket. We mainly grow our own.“It’s mostly chemical free too.”All this produce is grown over 27 hectares, which is shared over two neighbouring farms owned by the family.Up until about 10 years ago, the Verducis’ produce would be supplied directly to supermarkets.Frank said moving away from this was “the best thing I’ve ever done”.They now sell their fruit and vegetables exclusively at farmers’ markets throughout the Riverina and beyond.They are particularly popular with shoppers at the Naponda Farmers’ Market in Deniliquin.“We do all farmers’ markets, and during the week we will also do the odd general market.“It stops all your overheads.“We are making more money now then we were wholesale.”Selling at markets also saves them the headache of tricky competitive supermarket pricing.Although, Frank concedes this only works for fruit and vegetable farmers.“Dairy farmers can’t get rid of the middle man. Who are you going to sell your milk to?“They need to be working with a larger supplier.“Other farmers don’t have that option.”While border closures did restrict some markets over the last 12 months, Frank said there were still enough being held to keep the family business ticking along.And the market schedule is ramping up again, taking the Verducis as far as Canberra for sale opportunities.On the farm, all the work is completed by the family — mainly Frank and his wife Maria, their son Frankie and his wife Shawnee. Other members of the family also help out as required, which means harvest is not reliant on seasonal workers which can often be hard to come by.“I gave Frankie the education to do whatever he wanted to do in life, and he came back and chose to be a qualified farmer,” Frank said.“It’s a real family sort of business.“You’re cutting out a lot of wages. Instead of paying foreigners, you pay your kids.”As for the challenges working in extremely close quarters as a family, Frank said clear leadership is the best way to stop disagreements.“We all run the farm, but there’s only one boss — and that’s Frank senior,” he said with a laugh.“When there’s one boss, everything runs smoothly.”And Frank has no plans of stepping away from the family business or growing fantastic produce any time soon.He said the only real hurdle is one he has no control over — the weather.“There’s no point stopping at this stage; I’ve got at least another good 15 years of growing vegetables, God willing.“I love watching the crops grow from seedlings, to harvest time. It’s amazing.“Storms, and hail are the biggest concern in the winter. They can do a lot of damage.“This year has been really windy, but the crops have been holding out so far.”