From corporate life to the opportunity of home: Wimmera Grain Store’s Jenny Moore (nee Matthews) spent two decades working in banking and tourism in France, England, Sydney and Melbourne before reconnecting with family and her hometown of Rupanyup in rural Victoria, population 536.
“My family first moved to the Wimmera back in 1927, so are generational farmers,” she explains, describing the lineage of her grandfather, father, and now her brother, David, who have each farmed the same property – the ‘Home Block’ – of around 2000 acres.
But after spending time further afield, Jenny started her own family and needed a change. Luckily, David wanted to turn the farm’s commodity crops of wheat, chickpeas, lentils and faba beans into more consumer-ready products – and he needed a savvy marketer to do so. So, Jenny set up The Wimmera Grain Store and forged local partnerships with Australian businesses who wanted access to premium Australian-grown products – including a fruitful partnership with Mount Zero that sees us get priority access to the Matthews family’s in-demand green lentils each year.
The Matthews are one of only a handful of Australian farmers producing the French-style green lentils, sourced from seed from the famous Le Puy district in France. The Wimmera’s rich soils, long cold winters and hot dry summers offer perfect growing conditions for this lentil, which is characterised by its nutty flavour, thin skin, firm texture and general ease of cooking. For these reasons, the french style green lentil is a classic chef favourite, and forms the basis of many great salad and soup recipes.
“My brother and father started growing chickpeas and lentils as part of our crop rotations back in the early 90s,” says Jenny, explaining how one season’s planting of legume crops provides nutritional benefits to the soil and the following year’s wheat or barley crops. Since moving to rotational practice, not only have the crops benefited from the additional nitrogen in the soil, but business has also boomed. “We been supplying to Rich (Seymour, General Manager) and Mount Zero for almost a decade now and we’ve had such a fabulous relationship with them,” she says.
“We come from a similar area of Victoria, we are like minded in the sense we love good quality regional produce, and we genuinely care about our communities,” says Jenny, reflecting on what makes the relationship so strong.
But Jenny’s is not the only female involvement in the family business. “Many successful farmers are the ones who are outside learning about the farm from when they were kids,” Jen says. “David’s daughter Dominique is a prime example of learning the ropes as a child – she just loves it. So she’s the fourth generation. She’s out there every day doing what needs to be done, really hands on.”
The passion and energy in Jenny’s voice when she speaks about regional communities, women in agriculture and the love she has for the town of Rupanyup is infectious. It makes you want to jump in the car and see for yourself the vast and flat landscape that is one of Australia’s most important and productive food bowls.
“The food produced in Rupanyup and the Yarriambiack Shire is greater than the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley combined,” says Jenny, offering a sense of scale. But what the region might lack in the rolling hills and cellar doors of its southern-Victorian counterparts, it more than makes up for in broad landscapes patchworked with crops; friendly and hardworking locals; and the popular Silo Art Trail, of which Rupanyup marks the first stop when heading north from Melbourne.
On the Trail, towering portraits of locals wrap around the metal and cement silos of the region, watching proudly over the towns and crops. For Jenny, these silo art initiatives are so important that she’s used imagery of the Rupanyup silos on the packaging of the produce she sells at The Wimmera Grain Store. The portraits are as much monuments to the people of the region as they are markers of the critical role the area plays in putting food on plates around the country. “It’s lovely to see people appreciate good quality crops and good quality products,” she says. “I have a great respect for the added-value people, particularly chefs.”
Jenny pauses. Coming from a farming background, she perhaps understands hardship – the highs and lows of factors beyond one’s control – better than most. “Anyone who has a cafe, restaurant or catering business... what they’ve been through in the last two years is just horrendous,” she says, with the deepest of sincerity. “And to anyone who comes back out the other side – my god, they are just so courageous.”
As we come into the end of spring and start of summer 2021-22, work on the farm is flat out for the Matthews family. “Harvest starts in five weeks, and it will be a six to eight week process,” says Jenny. While labour availability is always tight in rural areas – even more so this season due to Covid – the Matthews are lucky to be able to call on the extended family to help. “We work a lot with our cousins, they’re amazing farmers,” says Jenny. “Initially when my dad and uncle started farming they worked together, they shared a car together… and then 50 years ago they separated the farms. But now we find more and more we’re working back together with them. We share an extra header together, we share storage with them, they are just so good at jumping in and helping if needed.”
And it’s this sense of community spirit and pulling together is the thing that gets Jenny out of bed every day. “It’s all about community,” says Jenny. “Community and connection.”
Thank you, Jenny, to you and your family, for not only producing such beautiful food that we can all enjoy, but also for championing and maintaining the vitality of regional communities, who are so important to making sure our food systems remain strong.