Nature and Nourishment at Coolmunda Organic Olives
Katie Baker, CEO of Coolmunda Organic Olives, stood inside the olive grove factory door, gazing across at the native gardens that stretched the length of the solar-powered factory.
A gentle breeze carried the earthy scents of lavender and native wattle flowers, inviting a contemporary dance between avians, butterflies, and bees.
Katie's father, Dr Colin Owen, created these gardens to honour the company's ethos when he said, "This land would be a better place for our having been here – At Coolmunda, we tread lightly."
For many years, visitors have basked in the warmth of a Coolmunda country welcome; it's evident his words have taken root, and that sentiment echoes through Katie as she turned and said, "You've picked the perfect day to visit."
She led the way through the processing plant, which has a boutique-style café and rows of large white vats. These enormous containers can hold up to 1000 kilograms.
"Each vat accommodates between 600-700 kilograms of olives immersed in a blend of water and salt," she explained, "The olives undergo a brining period lasting between six and nine months, and because we are an organic farm, there are absolutely no preservatives or chemicals used in our processing plant, or for that matter across the whole farm."
"Today, we're ready for the oil pressing process. It's a sight worth witnessing to grasp the enormous diversity of such a small fruit," Katie smiled.
Coolmunda Organic Olive Grove is a 40-hectare farm nestled near the friendly rural town of Inglewood and a stone's throw from Coolmunda Dam.
The Owen family has been growing olives here for three generations since Katie's parents planted the first Grove in 1989. Today the orchard boasts nearly 9000 trees.
"We modified our agribusiness model to an environmentally conscious approach over the years, transitioning to organic farming practices in 2007," Katie said.
Coolmunda Organic Olives is the only Grove in Queensland with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accreditation for environmentally sustainable growing practices and National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA) certification for organic farming.
As Katie approached the oil press machine, she explained how it operates. She pointed to the platform where the olives are deposited, the moving belt that transports them, and the chamber where the olives undergo the process of churning and pressing. The procedure extracts the valuable "liquid gold" that her customers use to cook their culinary delights.
She switched the machine on and stood back to watch the process unfold.
"This is the pure juice of the fruit," she explained. "We only press once and do so within four hours of hand-picking the very best fruit from the trees to achieve optimal polyphenol levels and a high level of antioxidants."
Katie indicated a container on the machine's side: "The residual pulp generated during the process becomes feed and organic fertiliser for our plantation. It's all part of the olives' natural cycle of life."
The olive grove thrives in a climate reminiscent of the Mediterranean, creating the perfect setting for the growth of young trees and their fruit to flourish. The intense summer heat and the crisp winter frosts contribute to the development of remarkable flavours.
Olives at the Coolmunda Grove include Spanish Arbequinas and Manzanillos, Greek Kalamatas, and North African Barouni. This varied range has earned the 40-hectare farm recognition as the Premier olive-growing region in Queensland.
After sampling the freshly pressed oil, we head out to explore the farm in an electric buggy called the Coolie Coaster. We arrive at an initiative focused on creating a distinctive and diverse forest highlighting the ecological significance of Sclerophyll plants—the Sclerophyll Arboretum.
Sclerophyll plants stand out for their resilient, tough leaves, an adaptation that enables them to thrive in arid and nutrient-deficient environments.
"We have over 100 species here, including Melaleuca, Callistemons, and the native white pine, Casuarina Callitris," Katie explained while reaching out to touch the nearest tree's leaves.
"Biodiversity is important to us due to the roles these ecosystems play, like seed dispersal, contributing to water purification, maintaining nutrient cycling, supporting pollination, and regulating agricultural pest populations."
"The whole idea of photosynthesis, where carbon dioxide is captured, and oxygen is released, lies right at the heart of our sustainability vision," she said.
With the tranquil shades of a winter afternoon and the sun inching closer to the horizon, we climb back into the e-buggy and head to the factory.
As we weave through the Olive Grove, several Dorper sheep come into view. The Olive Grove is home to more than 400 Dorper sheep after they were introduced to assist with weed control, fertilisation and waste management.
"They help manage weeds and undergrowth in the olive grove," Katie began, "and act as natural fertilisers to enrich the soil with essential nutrients."
"They also help with recycling waste like shoots and small branches by consuming them, which reduces the need for disposal, but the best thing is," Katie added with a grin, "They also provide an enjoyable distraction for visitors who like patting animals while they explore the Grove."
Being organics encompasses far more than just production, market access, and profit margins. It represents a mindset—a perspective ingrained in the consciousness of those committed to sustainable and organic practices.
Coolmunda Organic Olives strives for innovative approaches to cultivating food while meticulously assessing its effects on the environment. Organic farming is aligned with the environment's natural rhythms and ecological equilibrium, and at its core, organic food production is built on the bedrock of environmental stewardship and social accountability. It’s achieved through the regeneration of soil, prudent water usage, and animal welfare. These practices aim to mitigate and minimise any foreseeable adverse impacts.
Coolmunda Organic Olives is an inspiration, reminding us that the land's bounty is a gift that must be nurtured and reciprocated. It showcases how agriculture can evolve into a regenerative force, revitalising the earth and the community it supports. Coolmunda Organic Olives cultivate not only fruit but a profound respect for the land, paving the way towards a future where sustenance and sustainability coalesce in perfect harmony.