Aaron Brocken saves Harvest Farm at Bilpin by revisiting the past

Farmer Aaron Brocken in the orchard he is restoring and in which this weekend's gourmet lunch will be held. Picture: Rebecca Leaver
Farmer Aaron Brocken in the orchard he is restoring and in which this weekend's gourmet lunch will be held. Picture: Rebecca Leaver

IF YOU’RE a fan of local produce and gourmet cooking - and the beauty of Bilpin – a lunch this Saturday will be just the ticket. 

Bilpin farmer Aaron Brocken is starting a new project to make the farm he leases a “a living museum” with heritage species of fruit and vegetables and time-tested farming methods.

“We are about to take on one of Bilpin's last remaining orchards and restore it using creative techniques,” Mr Brocken said. 

The orchard he is restoring went out of business due to cheap imports 12 years ago.

“There were 36 working orchards in the area when I was born in 1986. Now there are only about six. The project will allow local agricultural knowledge to be passed on from the older generation of farmers to the next.”

He said the project is something of a push-back against the trend for landowners to wait for the possible financial bonanza of subdivision. “I think land should be used for something productive,” he said.

He also manages the blueberry orchard at Mount Tomah where he grew up, owned by his dad Eric Brocken.

The 30-acre Harvest Farm he leases is behind the well-known Cottage orchard on Bells Line of Road. He has two acres under vegetables and 700 apple, lemon and chestnut trees, the produce from which he sells as part of his Harvest Hampers business.

He’ll be growing Red Chief apples which is an old variety, something like a Gala, and is learning the old grafting methods from the few remaining orchardists in the area. He also has old varieties of rhubarb and potatoes.

“We also have old fig varieties smuggled in by Italian farmers,” he said. He said his farm’s owner Phil had kept the varieties alive.

He said with the Local Land Services cautioning that the average age of farmers in greater western Sydney was over 60, the need to pass on the baton of knowledge was clear. 

So with the restoration project being done under the 75-year-old owner’s guidance, Mr Brocken said it “allowed [the owner] to keep living his passion, and for us to learn from his years of experience and wisdom”. 

He said the urgency of keeping the remaining orchards in the area was another concern, particularly due to the Department of Agriculture’s policy on old orchards.

“The DPI is giving notice to all unused orchards to be bulldozed due to biosecurity,” he said, explaining that “if an old orchard is left, you get huge infestations of fungus, fruit fly, thrips, bats and birds”.

He said the project he’s undertaking has meant he was able to save the 700 trees from this directed destruction.

“Over the last three years, we have been improving the soil ecology with our bio-intensive market vegetable garden and are excited to be expanding our organic farming practices to the surrounding orchard,” he said. The farm sells produce to local cafes, markets and subscribers.

This Saturday Mr Brocken will host a gourmet lunch and farm tour to demonstrate the work being undertaken there and to showcase local produce. 

The four-course meal with matching drinks will be served in the orchard at the farm if weather permits; otherwise it will be in a function hall at Wollemi Wilderness cabins. The meal and farm tour on May 6 costs $150 a head. Accommodation is also available.

“Come and share a long lunch in the orchard to celebrate the end of the harvest season,” Mr Brocken said. 

The food is prepared by Jacinta Carmichael-Parissi of Lyttleton Stores at Lawson, while Mr Brocken will lead the farm tour, showing how he grows all of their organic produce. The event starts at midday.

Go to harvestfarms.com.au/product/gourmet-orchard-dinner/ to book.

Chef Jacinta Carmichael-Parissi of Lyttleton Stores at Lawson, works on delicacies at a previous long lunch.

Chef Jacinta Carmichael-Parissi of Lyttleton Stores at Lawson, works on delicacies at a previous long lunch.