Ken and Sonia Fletcher’s story begins in the South African city of Durban where two avocado trees stood strong and proud in their backyard.
Fast forward 20 or so years and not only do the Fletchers call Australia home, they now have more than 300 avocado trees to their name.
The Fletchers bought Bobs Farm Avocados near Nelson Bay just under two years ago with, Ken says, “no previous experience but a strong will to learn and to try something different”.
“We moved to Australia when our daughters were eight and five years old because we were concerned about their long-term future and safety. We were in Sydney for 18 years,” he says.
“Our first holiday in Australia was to Port Stephens and we fell in love with the area and visited many times. In fact we were customers of the avocado farm and also met the previous owners when they were running Growers Markets in Castle Hill.”
In 2016 Fletcher, who has worked as an industrial chemist and in the printing and packaging industry, talked to Sonia about running a business in the Port Stephens area. He liked avocados and it just so happened an avocado farm was for sale.
“We are fortunate in that we have ongoing support from the previous owners as well as our neighbours who also grow avocados, and who have been very helpful to us. We have become good friends with them,” he says.
“We have four varieties, some of which are not available in supermarkets. Ours are unique because they really are farm fresh. We pick them all by hand and we date every picking so we know when each batch will ripen. There is no refrigeration and distribution. We have a lot of people who come back every week for more.”
The trees do, however, require a lot of attention. There is only one crop per year.
“From flowering in early spring to harvesting in June, they need to survive wind, storms, heat waves and even frost, which we had on four occasions this winter,” Fletcher explains.
The avocados are sold at the couple’s farm stall at 3327 Nelson Bay Road, Bob’s Farm, and at various small local markets. They also sell fresh “Fingal Bee” honey harvested from hives on their farm.
“I have always been fascinated by bees,” Fletcher says. “Like wine, honey can be so varied depending on the nectars. It is such a beautiful natural product. I never thought it was possible to have bees in urban areas; in South Africa the bees are very aggressive.”
His advice for anyone considering a farming future? “Like anything, a cautious approach is good. Some of the work is physically hard but we are really enjoying the mental and physical stimulation. And we still have a lot to learn.”
The Fletchers’ farm stall trades June to November, 9.30am to 4pm, or until sold out. Look for the old push bike with a basket full of ripe avocados.