As a child, Kirsty Parker grew up moving around Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom, as well as several other overseas countries, due to her father’s job as an engineer. She lived in small towns, villages and seaside towns but never really in the city.
Future husband Andy spent his early years in West Africa before being schooled in the UK. During the holidays he would travel to Africa to spend vacations with his parents where his father worked as the manager of a pharmaceutical company.
“We met each other in Nigeria when Andy’s father was managing the cocoa factory next door to the expat site where engineers and their families were living, one of those being my family,” recalls Kirsty. “We were 17 and 18 at the time. Our only city experience was just before we got married when we lived in London, 17 years ago,” she adds.
After living out of the city for most of their lives the couple knew they wanted to continue their country way of life here in Australia and have lived in McLaren Vale, SA, for the past six years. For the past seven months, they have been living at the McLaren Vale Avocado Farm, an 11-acre property that’s home to a B&B, Avocado Cottage, with 10 of those acres boasting seven different varieties of delicious avocado trees.
“The trees mature at different times of the year, so the season lasts from approximately August to March, depending on the crop of each variety,” says Kirsty. “Picking them is not labour-intensive, so Andy and I do this ourselves. Because avocados don’t ripen on the tree, there’s a couple of months’ window for picking each variety, so we don’t pick in large quantities. Although we haven’t experienced a full season yet, we have harvested about 800kg to date.”
After a poor crop thanks to severe hot weather last year, Kirsty and Andy expect to at least double the crop for the coming season as cooler weather and a constant analysis of the trees’ nutrient value should ensure stronger, larger and better-quality fruit. Not a bad achievement considering they had no experience in farming at all until purchasing the property.
In South Australia, the root rot that can have an adverse effect on avocado trees in other regions of Australia is not as prevalent and in Mclaren Vale itself pests are not a serious problem. This means Kirsty and Andy’s produce can be grown and sold pesticide-free.
“Some of the local restaurants and cafes buy our avocados,” says Kirsty. “We also have a farm shop that sells local honey, preserves and other farm fruit. Apart from the avocados, we also grow walnuts, almonds, macadamias, oranges, apricots, peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, pears, figs, apples, grapefruit, quinces, nashis, tangelos, guavas and kalamata olives. We grow vegetables for personal use and to make the chutneys and relishes.”
With farming being a venture that’s in nature’s hands for the most part, Andy has a full-time job in the public sector and Avocado Cottage is run as a B&B, ensuring financial support should the trees not be as productive as expected.
Kirsty says the local community is very supportive of the farm and many of them are regular visitors to the farm shop to buy their fruit and preserves. “We also have regulars from Adelaide who come to buy their avocados here,” Kirsty says. “The B&B has also been popular with the help of the local tourist information centre which, along with some cellar doors and restaurants, is within a 10-minute walk.”
Avocado Cottage is also less than 10 minutes’ drive from the beach, close to many wineries and within a short distance of the regional cycling trail, making it a wonderful getaway for anyone needing to de-stress.
The Parkers’ teenage daughters Megan and Amie enjoy living on the property, even though they were not raised on the farm from childhood, and have active social lives including playing netball. Then there’s Jasper the friendly family dog.
“He is a border collie x kelpie x labrador, we think,” laughs Kirsty. “He is a real character and always welcomes the customers at the shop and in the B&B when he’s not busy chasing the quad bike around.”
The house was built 23 years ago by the original owners, who also put in the avocado trees. When Kirsty and Andy moved in they had a lot of work to do bringing some of the trees under control to make ongoing maintenance easier. Thankfully, they had a good support network to help them achieve this.
“The garden was quite overgrown with weeds as we moved in a couple of months after the previous owners left, so it needed some work clearing and tidying,” remembers Kirsty. “But there has been a constant array of colourful flowers blooming throughout the months that we have been here. The trees in the orchard needed pruning, the dead wood removed and weed control was a necessity. This has been very labour intensive and, thankfully, with some help from family we are nearly there.”
Peace, space and the slower pace of life are just some of the benefits Kirsty and her family enjoy about their country existence. They love being surrounded by the native birds, including some resident black cockatoos that fly by on a regular basis and make a wonderful spectacle against the hills in the background.
“One reason why we moved into this lifestyle was to take the opportunities that are presented to us and take what comes from that as an experience — challenges and all,” says Kirsty. “I suffered with breast cancer two years ago and since then have enjoyed each day as it comes, with all the highs and lows. Living a natural life goes hand in hand with good health.”
For more information or to make a booking at Avocado Cottage, visit www.avocadocottage.com.au.
POSTSCRIPT: Due to ongoing job commitments, Kirsty and Andy have decided to close the book on their time as avocado growers and sell the farm to move on to pastures new. They are sad to be leaving such a wonderful lifestyle but excited about the next chapters of their lives.