Macadamias in the Rainforest - Gardening Australia ABC
Gardening Australia visits Pam and Martin Brook, co-founders of Brookfarm and Macadamia farmers, and talks to guest presenter, and foodie turned farmer Palisa Anderson, about regenerative agriculture and their journey of restoring the original subtropical rainforest known as the Big Scrub.
The Brook's decided to begin growing macadamia's after buying a weed infested dairy farm in 1988. Over 30 years the Brook's planted 35,000 subtropical rainforest trees and over 4,500 macadamia trees.
Brookfarm was created after Pam Brook had a vision of value adding to the macadamia nut, Australia's native nut. The Brookfarm Toasted Muesli recipe was created and, over 20 years later, the recipe still hasn't changed.
Palisa Anderson: Today, I want to introduce you to a couple I'm learning so much from, in my own farming journey. Pam and Martin Brook are macadamia farmers, and they've also restored the original subtropical rainforest on their land known as the Big Scrub. This ancient rainforest has been largely cleared in the region with less than 1% remaining, but by restoring their patch of rainforest, Pam and Martin are finding rewards within their macadamia crops. Tell me a little bit about the macadamia tree.
Martin Brook: The macadamia tetraphylla originated from the rainforests of Northeast New South Wales, Southeast Queensland.
Palisa: It's the king of nuts, it's the avocado of the nut world.
Martin: I'm a bit biased, but I think it is.
Palisa: I love them, I think, yeah, I like the pink salt ones.
Martin: Yeah they're nice.
Pam Brook: So we've got about 40 acres of macadamias and the rest is regenerated rainforest, but when we started farming, we were completely ignorant, we knew nothing.
Martin: It was a rundown dairy farm and it literally turned into weeds.
Palisa: Historically, this area was part of the Big Scrub?
Martin: Sure it was, this was the biggest subtropical rainforest in Australia and one of the biggest in the world. We came across this amazing group, it's called the Big Scrub Landcare.
Pam: And it was with them that we found this tiny remnant of the Big Scrub on our land.
Martin: So we thought, right, okay, we'll plant the 35,000 native trees, mostly subtropical rainforest and 4,500 macadamias. And that's how we started.
Pam: We relied very much on traditional macadamia farming at the time and it was very traditional. It was calendar spraying, all those sort of things. But our way of farming has changed so much over the years.
Palisa: Has that been reflected by what's happened in the rainforest?
Pam: Totally, and the macadamia is a rainforest tree, it's an Australian native tree. So there's just a lot of synergy between the rainforest and the macadamia as well.
Palisa: It's always just remarkable to me to see the staghorn ferns up on the commercial trees, because it is mimicking what happens in its natural environment rather than trying to force it to be just as a monocrop.
Pam: Yeah, and it's a sign of life and health. And one of the great things that happens in the rainforest is you get all those diversity of microbes and fungi and all of those things and that's so important to the orchard.
Palisa: What a special place this is.
Martin: These are bangalow palms, which is native to this area. I love that tree, but we've got these like sandpaper figs, which is amazing, you know, really hard kind of leaves.
Palisa: And the ground covers?
Pam: Yeah, we've got the native ginger just keeps springing up. It's all a seed bank within the soils.
Martin: We've learned that it's really important to attract as many insects and you know, these wonderful predator bugs as possible. We can lose a lot of nuts, especially when they're small through bush rats. And by actually planting these trees, by creating forests, these are home to owls and a breeding pair of owls will eat 1200 rats and mice a year, works really well. The commercial planting and this rainforest.
Palisa: What do you think makes the macadamia nuts special?
Martin: Well, for start, I think in Australia, we produce the best quality macadamia nuts in the world. What makes it special, I think, is the taste. But also these incredible health benefits.
Pam: People just ate macadamias for snacks, like roasted and salted or whatever. And we said, let's put it in people's everyday diet so that they're having these delicious nuts in everything that they eat.
Martin: You know, you came up with the idea of the macadamia muesli.
Pam: I'd always loved the idea of making things. And so we said, why don't we take our own crop and add value to that, you know, quite naive thinking, well, we can do this just like, well, we can grow rainforest. Well, if you really put your mind to it. Will was what, eight or nine when we started the business, he's now running Brookfarm.
Martin: You know, this is still my favourite muesli.
Will: Yeah, oh yeah.
Will: This was the first one we made at the Bangalow markets like 20 years ago. Yeah, yeah. The recipe hasn't changed since 20 years.
Pam: It's great to see the next generation take it on. And he's doing his own thing now with it too.
Palisa: Ever the innovators, the Brooks are looking ahead to maintain productivity and respond to future challenges on the farm.
Martin: The macadamia tree is really robust leathery leaves and they they're great for retaining water, but they really don't like it once the is sort of getting over 33, 34 35, and indeed we've had trees for the very first time they've died on us, when the temperature went to 40 degrees. It's sort of unheard of for this part of the world so near the sea.
Palisa: Wow, so I guess this is where having the grass inter-row has really helped you, has it helped kind of, create a little micro climate?
Martin: And we're going even one further. We're actually gonna be taking out whole rows and then planting a mixture of things like clovers and flowering stuff. We've made that decision that we are going to really increase and improve the inter-row, and we're gonna really work incredibly hard to get these soils even better and also get more carbon in the soil because this is the wonderful thing with gardening, the wonderful thing with improving soils is capturing carbon.
Pam: With all the flowering plants, bringing all the bugs.
Pam: And one of the really important things about spreading the story of regenerative agriculture is that it makes for healthier land, it makes for healthier farmers as well. And people they're amazed by how things can change in that period of time.
Martin: Short period of time.
Pam: It's less than a lifetime.