In Red Cliffs, Victoria, the Calvi clan is a rare breed. In a region besotted with growing wine grapes and citrus, they’ve decided to buck the trend, and grow pumpkins.
Twenty-three year old Tony owns the business with dad, Carlo. Red Cliffs is around 10 kilometres from Mildura; a part of Victoria renowned for growing grapes and for being one of the largest regions in Australia for citrus. It is also a region that has seen dozens of farmers simply walk off the land, unable to find a market for their produce in a landscape crippled by drought, with grapevines and orchards left to wither and expire. Tony’s farm is no exception.
“My mum’s father originally had this farm and started out growing grapes for dried fruit. He then converted the farm to wine and table grapes. When he passed away the farm was sold. The guy that bought it just couldn’t make it work, and abandoned the farm entirely – just walked off the land. My dad Carlo and I bought it back three years ago and we looked at alternative vegetables that could do well in this region, and pumpkins it was!” says Tony.
Whilst the family is one of the few in the area to grow pumpkins, it is a vegie that Carlo is very familiar with. He has spent a lifetime buying and selling fruit and veg in the Melbourne Market. Alongside his farm, Carlo also runs a horticultural college to inspire the next generation of farmers. Son Tony started a horticultural apprenticeship at the age of 17 on a large farm, which grew wine grapes, avocadoes, almonds and wheat as well as harvesting fish. This farm also had a vast open field for vegetable production, and this is where Tony acquired the know-how of pumpkin growing.
“During our first year of growing pumpkins we did a lot of things the wrong way, but you get better as you go. The red, loamy-rich soil up here really is good to grow a whole range of produce. Plus the weather is so balanced.”
Weather conditions this year have been okay, but not great. A heat wave in February saw three weeks of constant daytime temperatures over 40°C, followed immediately by over 70 millimetres of rain. During these times, irrigating in the cool of the night is paramount, as too much heat and moisture can boil the pumpkin plants and shut them down.
Like many farmers throughout Australia, the drought is once again starting to set in. The ability to buy water is getting scarcer, and the cost of it is escalating quickly. Applying mulch and installing drip-line irrigation is planned in order to maximise water for the crop. In doing so, they hope to save a third of the amount of water they are currently using. “We are battling with it. Everyone is battling with it. But you just have to try and push through,” says Tony.
The Calvis supply their superior butternut pumpkins to Aussie Farmers Direct, and they have 10 acres planted to this popular pumpkin variety. Harvest starts at the end of February and goes right through until mid winter. In the early days they trialled many different varieties, but the one they nurture is a larger, sweeter variety, and the best to eat.
Farming is an industry that isn’t the most appealing of career choicest for many of the next generation. Tony, younger brothers Vince and Daniel (who also work on the family farm), and their local peers, seem to be an exception. “A lot of my mates are in farming. There are a lot of the sons in the area taking over the family farms. This was my grandfather’s farm. I see it develop more every day, and now I run it, and own it. This is something I am pretty proud of, and is my greatest reward,” says Tony.
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