Rita is one of the masterminds behind the ethical olive farm, Red Rock Olives. Their olive grove and farm gate cafe, situated near the Grampians Nation park in western Victoria, produces premium quality olive oil, table olives, olive salt and artisanal vinegar.
Their aim is to produce products sustainably and ethically, with a focus on providing a paddock to plate experience.
We caught up with Rita to hear more about what they are doing to make a difference in the food world.
If you could have one thing magically appear on your farm, what would it be?
If one thing was to magically appear on the farm, I would love it to be water and an irrigation system. We bought the olive grove in 2013 - little did we know we would face two years of drought and bushfires in the area. It was not until last year that the drought broke. Although olive trees can live on minimal water (in some places in the world they live on less than 200mm), they do prefer life with water. Our water source is fragile - something that becomes more apparent when you move out of the city limits.
What do you think is the best way for producers to engage with eaters?
We have the most success at our farm gate café. People come in interested in the product, because they can see where it comes from. They are often visiting the Grampians and interested to learn about the area and climate.
How can we encourage more people to eat ethically/sustainably?
Education is fundamental for change. The importance and benefits of ethical, sustainable food needs to be taught from an early age. Children need to have a connection with their food source to understand the production and processes involved in creating it.
What do you love the most about doing what you do?
I love where I work – the Grampians are an incredible backdrop to my daily routine. I love watching the seasons change – the flowers, the plants, the animals. Its never a dull day when you work surrounded by nature.
Who is your sustainable food hero?
I love the Cornersmith – a café based in Sydney who pickle and preserve the produce they have in abundance. My background is Latvian and there is a lot of pickling and preserving in northern Europe – a technique that reduces food wastage, keeps food longer and is also very good for you.
Who should people look up if they are interested in sustainable food and farming?
David – my husband and co-owner of Red Rock Olives. Although there is not much information online about him, he has an impressive record. He used to work for Project Platypus, a landcare organisation responsible for revegetating the Wimmera area. In his time there he planted over 400,000 trees.
Today at Red Rock Olives, he looks after the trees and sheep that we run on the property. It was his idea to let sheep into the fenced off olive grove. The sheep prune the trees for us and re-deposit the nutrients into the soil – a method we like to call “munch and mulch”. Its easy, sustainable and effective for the health of our trees and sheep.
What advice would you give someone who is looking to start producing food commercially?
Take the time, money and energy to get the labels of your product right. You have 5 seconds to grab someone’s attention. You want to be proud showing them to people, and you also have to look at these labels every single day, so get them right at the beginning.
Recipes inspired by Rita's produce
This blog is a collaboration between the Social Food Project, Ian Parish Creative and Matt Houston Photography.