Alan and Denyse Hodgson (aka Grumpy Grandma) have been associated with the olive industry since 1998. Firstly, by planting a mixed variety olive grove, with minimal information on the pit-falls of growing olives in a sub-tropical area, such as North Coast of NSW (NC), and secondly by processing and marketing olives on the NC.
In 1999 and 2000 they became founding members of Summerland Olives Incorporated (SOI) and later Summerland Olive Processing (SOPA). With the aid of grants they visited groves throughout Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria to study the Australian Olive Industry. They also participated in a feasibility study in relation to the viability of growing olives on North Coast of NSW (NC). All very rosy at that time!
They soon learnt there wasn’t any local processing facility for olives on the NC. Following a series of meetings SOI was formed to educate farmers and SOPA was established to process local olives. Alan became the processor for the company, taking the bitter olive from the tree to a product suitable for the table, using traditional methods learned in his travels. A big leap for an engine rebuilder!
In 2006 Alan won the National Table Olive Competition and was awarded a trip to Sicily for a study tour of olive growing and processing. Was that an eye opener – thank goodness for an interpreter with a Sicilian background.
So many things we didn’t ask about! So Alan applied for a Churchill Scholarship and in 2007 was successful in gaining funding support to travel to Italy and Sicily to study processing green olives and waste management. On both these trips Denyse carried his bags!
Alan continued to win awards for his processing of olives and had some 70 odd accumulated by 2013.
In 2014 Alan and Denyse launched their own brand ‘Grumpy Grandma’s olives and oils”. In this year and in 2015 Alan took out Gold and Champion Olive products at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Competition. We may be little but we are not lousy!
Alan and Denyse continue to pick, process their own grove and accept olives form other groves to make up their olive business. There are many small groves on the NC and SE Queensland. Grumpy Grandma’s olives can be found at several Farmers Markets on the NC, in several leading tourist restaurants and deli’s, and selected gourmet shops on the Gold Coast.
The olives were meant to be a ‘hobby’ that would be an interest in retirement. Both having long work histories in other industries, Alan with motors and Denyse with Nursing. Needless to say retirement is now ‘on-hold’!
Following our study tours in Australia and Sicily/Italy we are committed to traditional chemical free processing. The processing is as simple as water, salt, fermentation and time. We are chemical free, no dyes to create artificial colour and no preservatives are used.
This means we take time to allow the traditional de-bittering and fermentation to occur. We are forever grateful to the families in Sicily and Italy for sharing their time honoured traditions with us. We have also been mentored by Greek families in South Australia, as formal standards for safe food for olives are few and far between. Again we are respectful of their cultural traditions and expertise in this industry.
The Extra Virgin Olive Oil is simply the whole olive crushed and fruit sediment separated from the water and oil. We have this process contracted to experts in the industry with the facilities to maximise oil production. The oil is simply fruit juice full of anti-oxidants.
Farming olives on the North Coast has been trial and error. Firstly olive trees sold to us as dual purpose, that is – oil and table olives – weren’t! So we have concentrated on table olives as this area receives most of its rain in the lead up to harvest time. This usually ensures the olives are plump and process well as Table or pickled olives. Hence Alan’s many successes with table olives
NC has many pests and diseases due to our high rain fall and levels of humidity, and we suffer from similar issues as do bananas, mangoes, custard apples and macadamia. We have learnt to manage groves to minimise these horticulture issues by pruning, monitoring harvest times and methods and selecting appropriate olive varieties. Mind you we are still learning as some varieties that have been in for several years are now just starting to bear. They must have heard the whispers about pulling them out!
We have learnt that olives won’t swim, so they need high and dry area to grown in, hence we also don’t need to irrigate. The NC is very low chill, so only varieties that don’t rely on a long dormancy for fruiting are best, and that pruning is vital to manage the humidity in the trees. One Italian pruner expressed this as the tree should be open enough to allow a crow to fly through. There are occasions when the trees need a shock and a reminder that fruiting is the name of the game and get a hard prune.
We also encourage Australian Bush or native stingless bees on the farm. The flowers are not significant to European bees and easily bypassed, however our local bush bees are a fantastic asset to pollination. We encourage farmers to leave dead trees or one with hollows for the bush bees to nest in, alternatively they can be brought into the grove in their distinct housing. To protect our bush bees we do not use pesticides or insecticides on our farm.
Whilst we are not certified organic Alan does apply the principles and practices of biodynamic, organic and permaculture in the production of our olives. We do not intend poisoning our grandchildren as they won’t eat ‘store bought’ olives.