Couple are nuts about sharing the pecan love

Couple are nuts about sharing the pecan love

Smart Farmer News
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Barefoot Farm owners Matt James and Ash Jones share the love of pecans in their delicious menu at their Eltham Valley Pantry cafe.

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BRANCHING OUT: Barefoot Farm owners Matt James and Ash Jones, and their one-year-old daughter Nigella. The couple share the love of pecans in their delicious menu at their Eltham Valley Pantry cafe.

BRANCHING OUT: Barefoot Farm owners Matt James and Ash Jones, and their one-year-old daughter Nigella. The couple share the love of pecans in their delicious menu at their Eltham Valley Pantry cafe.

Families walk slowly down the rows of beautiful pecan trees, laughing and talking.

Children dart around, hooting with delight as they pick the lovely brown nuts from the shady grass and place them in the basket.

And these moments are very special to Matt James and Ash Jones, because this is their mission - for people to appreciate where their food comes from, and to fall in love with pecans.

The couple are the proud owners of Barefoot Farm near Lismore in northern NSW, where their wonderful Eltham Valley Pantry cafe serves up pecans in more ways than you can poke a branch at, and where people can wander their orchard and enjoy gathering food for their own table. The farm is also home to their free range chickens, pigs and bees.

It is a shared passion, and it appears it was meant to be, because Matt and Ash found themselves following very similar paths, even though they were yet to meet.

Both are qualified chefs and they both studied at Lismore university. After years in the kitchen, both left the industry and went back to university to study science, with Matt focusing on soils and Ash on nutrition.

But with all these similarities, where did they meet?

"We met at soccer in 2003," Ash said. "It was funny - we got to our passion independently."

MOUTH-WATERING: Delicious Barefoot Farm products.

MOUTH-WATERING: Delicious Barefoot Farm products.

They handcleared a block of land near Nimbin, and living in a derelict bus, they planted a market garden, supplying to farmers' markets.

"We started using our chef skills to value add at farmers' markets, such as making a Moroccan pumpkin soup to sell," Ash said.

They started to supply cafes with their products, and hired commercial kitchens to prepare their food. But they always wanted a block of their own, and again fate came calling. In 2015, while Matt was working for the Department of Primary Industries and Ash was full-time catering, a pecan farm popped up on Gumtree.

"We went to look at it and signed the lease that day," Ash said. "It was 20 acres with 300 productive pecan trees, and a 104-year-old building to use as a cafe.

"We saw so much potential. At that stage, there was no connection between the [cafe and the orchard]. But we wanted to showcase the nuts, and show how to use them in savoury ways rather than just pecan pie.

"We wanted to challenge people's palettes and show that this is an amazing nut. And although this is a macadamia region, we wanted to show there are other really viable crops for our region."

In 2016, they bought the farm, now employ six people, and provide an experience and fabulous food.

Delicious delights coming out of their shell

DIVERSE: Barefoot Farm is home to plenty of pecan delights, including maple roasted pecans and chocolate coated pecans. Photos: Kate Rickard.

DIVERSE: Barefoot Farm is home to plenty of pecan delights, including maple roasted pecans and chocolate coated pecans. Photos: Kate Rickard.

A true paddock to plate experience. This is what Barefoot Farm owners Matt James and Ash Jones want to provide, and what makes it all the more special is guests can pick the food themselves.

Matt and Ash handle their pecans from when they first fall from the trees right until they are placed in a delicious dish in front of their guests.

They harvest the pecans themselves in usually May by shaking the trees, and collect them by hand. It is after this that their guests can wander through the majestic trees to collect the nuts.

"It is quite beautiful. It's people out, away from screens, doing what people are meant to do," Ash said.

They also carry out their own composting, and run their processing plant on solar energy.

BY HAND: Ash collects the fallen pecans from under the trees.

BY HAND: Ash collects the fallen pecans from under the trees.

They process the nuts on-farm, processing between four and six tonnes a year. And they also process up to 30t of nuts for others growers in the region, and sell some through their cafe.

"We are the largest processor of nuts in the northern region," Ash said. "It encourages more people to grow pecans because they have somewhere to sell them."

Matt and Ash have big plans for the future, such as having information signs in the orchard, where people can learn more about the nuts, such as how they grow.

"We also want to have fun facts for kids, like the pecan was the first nut on the moon in Apollo 13," Ash said. "It's about making farming fun. People feel more connected to their food when they know something about it."

Ash hopes to make people more aware of the massive health benefits of pecans. "We want to see Australian pecans on Australian tables."

Time to celebrate crunchy kernels

DELICIOUS: Pecans bring an extra crunch and flavour to a huge range of dishes.

DELICIOUS: Pecans bring an extra crunch and flavour to a huge range of dishes.

Barefoot Farm owners Matt James and Ash Jones want to share the love of pecans.

And they want to showcase just what a diverse nut they can be, popping them in delightful dishes in surprising ways.

"Like Texan roasted pecans tossed through a beetroot, pumpkin and fetta salad," Ash said. "Or a hot smoked Tassie salmon, which is roasted using pecan wood. We use the prunings to cook the salmon."

But what is Ash's favourite way to eat pecans?

"I would have to say just a handful of pecans in a salad. They bring that crunch. They don't need a lot of attention to be delicious," she said.

"I've always loved pecans. And I just love the trees. They are beautiful."

And what about Matt? "He's allergic to nuts," Ash laughed.

The couple also use produce from the Northern Rivers region in their cafe, such as using local salami and cheeses in the menu, and visiting local farmers' markets for fresh produce.

  • Visit: www.barefootfarmbyron.com
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