Going for gold

The Whitsundays is a magical holiday destination but for second-generation grower Evan Chapman of Rocky Ponds Produce, it’s also a prime location for growing pumpkins and other fresh produce.

Evan and Des Chapman

Evan Chapman, left, says his father Des offers invaluable advice as he takes over the family farm.

The Whitsundays is a magical holiday destination but for second-generation grower Evan Chapman of Rocky Ponds Produce, it’s also a prime location for growing pumpkins and other fresh produce.

As far as offices go, Evan Chapman has no complaints. As he drives across the flat plains of Rocky Ponds Produce at Gumlu, about 135 kilometres south of Townsville, he enjoys panoramic rural views of the Great Dividing Range to the west, while the rugged granite headlands of Cape Upstart in the east are a constant reminder that the Whitsundays Coast is just minutes away.

However, spending time with his family at their beach hut or fishing on their much-loved boat is an infrequent luxury. Due to the mild winters in this idyllic region of Far North Queensland, Rocky Ponds Produce has one of the longest growing seasons in Australia. This means there is little downtime when it comes to farming the pumpkins, melons and capsicums they supply to Coles. “We start putting plants in the ground in the middle of February and we harvest right up until the middle of December,” Evan says.

Evan and his wife Lauren, both 39, have recently purchased Rocky Ponds Produce from Evan’s parents Des and Paula, who established the business in 1978. What began as a small four-hectare farm has now grown to around 750 hectares, producing 2,000 tonnes of butternut and Kent pumpkins, as well as 350 hectares of melons and capsicums.

After studying and working as a civil designer, Evan says he was drawn back to the farm about 13 years ago when his parents reached a crossroads about what do with the business. “At that time my wife and I had just had our first daughter [Isla, now 12, who has since been joined by Milla, 10 and eight-year-old Taylor] and I was a bit tired of what I was doing and was weighing up some options. At the same time, Dad was deciding whether to slow down or continue expanding the business. I had always enjoyed farming and being outdoors, so we decided it was now or never and made the leap.”

His parents may have passed on the business baton but Evan says their ongoing advice and encouragement is invaluable: “Mum and Dad still live on the farm. Mum is showing Lauren how to do the bookwork, while Dad is still driving around and checking on things and letting me know if he sees any issues or ways I can improve in certain areas,” he laughs.

Fortunately, Evan and his three siblings learnt the ropes from an early age. “During school holidays we’d be in the shed putting stickers on melons and box lids and stirring up the shed staff, then as we got older we were on tractors and helping with picking and other kinds of ground work,” he says.

But it wasn’t all work and no play. “We had a typical rural childhood. We would ride our pushbikes around the whole place, and there were a couple of nice swimming holes and a creek 10 minutes away where we would do a bit of fishing.” At the end of the day, they’d all head home for a hearty meal – usually with some home-grown produce on the plate.

Now that he’s in charge, Evan says he’s looking forward to the next chapter. “Taking over the business is exciting, scary, intensely challenging, rewarding… all of the above. It highlights the importance of keeping my finger on the pulse of every part of the business to make sure it’s all going as well as it possibly can. It’s about constantly looking at different ways of innovating and doing things better. But, more than anything, it’s about keeping our customers satisfied and ensuring that when the Rocky Ponds sticker and lid goes on something, it’s always a consistently high quality.”

Pumpkin tips from the expert

Once pumpkins have been cut they need to be refrigerated. Wrap in plastic until you are ready to cook.

Whole pumpkins don’t need to be kept in the fridge. They have a shelf-life of around 25 days; as long as they are stored out of the sun and are nice and firm, they’ll last longer than this.

Although you can substitute a Kent or butternut for any purpose, I find butternut ideal for soups or cut into cubes and roasted for adding to salads, pizzas, risottos, couscous etc. Kent pumpkin is great roasted or grilled.

After roasting or grilling I like to eat the skin - it’s a personal preference – it’s also easier to remove when it’s been cooked.

To cut the pumpkin, use a large, sharp, solid knife and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds, then lay it skin-side up so the pumpkin sits flat. Trim off the skin, then cut into pieces to suit your requirements. Once cooked, we usually keep any leftover pumpkin and add to a salad for our next meal. 

For more pumpkin themed inspiration check out our 10 warming pumpkin recipes

 

Rocky Ponds pumpkins are available in selected Coles supermarkets in NSW and Queensland.