As featured in The Country Web: Our Farmers – Our Future, Number 56 Autumn 2012
In need of a tree change, Pam Brook (a former dentist) and her husband Martin (a former film company executive) swapped life in Melbourne for a farm on the NSW North Coast. Their story is one of passion, innovation, sustainability and success.
Pam and Martin Brook bought their 40 ha rundown dairy farm in Bangalow in 1989. The farm was seriously degraded and largely overrun with weeds, with a tiny pocket of remnant rainforest. They spent the next 10 years planting and nurturing 4500 macadamia nuts creating what is now Brookfarm — a leading producer of premium quality macadamia products such as muesli, macadamia oil, walkabout mixes and Brookfarm bars. Their success Pam believes is a result of their 3 P’s:
1. Passion for quality;
2. Passion for a better environment; and
3. Passion for great tasting healthy food.
What inspired their involvement in a new rural industry?
New to farming and on a steep learning curve Pam says when they bought the farm the macadamia nut in shell price was strong and the industry future looked rosy. Macadamia nuts take 10 years to mature and yield a commercial crop so the couple continued to work in Melbourne until the trees were mature enough to yield a crop and they could move up permanently. Their overall mission for Brookfarm was to incorporate macadamias into foods that people eat every day. To create products of the highest quality that showcased the health benefits and delicious taste of the macadamia.
‘We really wanted to create a different range of macadamia based products other than the usual chocolate coated, roasted and salted nuts. It took over two years in intensive research and development to launch our first two mueslis.’
In November 2000 after 18 months of testing, baking and tasting, Pam and Martin sold their first Macadamia Mueslis at the local Bangalow markets. Pam created the products and for the first two years they baked and packaged in the local bakery. Martin would then load the muesli into the back of his car and sell to local shops and cafes. The product range grew by popular demand and today all products are made in their own purpose-built factory. They make 17 tonne of Macadamia Muesli per week, supplying the independent sector throughout Australia and export to over 12 countries.
In 2007 Brookfarm won the Telstra and MYOB Australian Business of the Year – the first food manufacturing company to win this prestigious award. They also have a host of other national and international awards for their products and business management success. In 2011 Pam and Martin were a finalist in the 2011 Farmer of the Year Awards coordinated by NSW Department of Primary Industries and NSW Farmers.
So what does Pam attribute to the farms success?
‘One of the key’s to our success is the connection with our consumers through our story of sustainable farming. We tell the story of our farm on the back of every product we sell. It connects consumers to our farm and our paddock to plate story.’
A passion for great tasting healthy food
Pam said her passion for good food and the frustration of seeing Australia’s macadamia nuts being shipped offshore was the catalyst to do something different with their product.
‘The inspiration for our Muesli and Walkabout blends comes from my late father, Mick Hull (one of Victoria’s skiing legends). I remember our kitchen used to be filled with jars of oats, bran, nuts, grains, seeds, dried fruits and secret ingredients my father would specially request. He would then blend a new mix each week until the ideal combination was achieved. Dad never went into the bush without a packet of home-made trail mix, or Scroggins as he called it, in his pocket.’
Passion for quality
Pam says all their products are based on the highest quality nuts, grains and fruits.
‘We constantly search out the best suppliers of raw materials. Depending on the season our oats and barley come from central NSW, SA or WA, dried fruits from Riverina, native honey from QLD and bush ingredients such as lemon myrtle and bush pepper from local growers.
‘We work directly with the farmers as we’re passionate about supporting and giving people real jobs and real futures within the farming community and every one of our products is produced and manufactured in our own factories’.
By creating these job opportunities Pam and Martin are helping to build a viable, local food manufacturing industry in regional Australia.
Passion for a better environment
Environmental sustainability is also at the core of the farm’s business plan. Having completed a massive land restoration program that involved planting 30,000 subtropical rainforest and eucalypt trees on areas too steep for macadamias and around the streams that run through the property, they are currently two years into a three-year transition to organic status.
‘The rainforest regeneration goes hand in hand with making the farm function better. Six years ago we would lose 7 – 8% of our macadamia crops to rats and we used bait to control the problem. By planting the rainforest, the floor is now clear and there’s nowhere for the rats to hide. We also have several pairs of breeding owls who have made their homes in our rainforest and its estimated that a pair will consume up to 1500 rats and mice a year. We’ve now stopped all baiting and the wastage to rats is now down to 0.3% per annum.
‘Our integrated pest management program also includes the introduction of thousands of indigenous wasp eggs to neuter the eggs of the damaging nut borer and similar programs to take care of other pests such as the spotted bug. Beneficial insects important for pollination are also part of the big picture and the farm is currently monitoring the introduction of native beehives.
‘Recently we have joined with over 200 other NSW companies working with the State Government’s Sustainability Advantage Program. Every aspect of our business is critically examined and measured for its carbon footprint, and through the changes we are making we are working towards becoming carbon negative’.
Today, the farm is a haven for wildlife including echidna, wallaby, paddy melons, koalas, water dragons, turtles, duckbill platypus, carpet pythons, red‑bellied black snakes, eastern brown snakes, bandicoots, goanna’s and a rich variety of birdlife including the yellow tail black cockatoo. Pam says in the early morning the rainforest is a virtual symphony of bird-song.
Community and giving back
Giving back to the community is important to the Brook’s. They support breakfast programs in regional NSW, soup kitchens and food banks to help provide balanced and healthy nutrition to those most in need. Pam is also involved in a local schools program on product design and development. Other initiatives include support for the Friends of the Koala Rescue Centre, local Landcare groups and Coeliac Awareness. In November 2008 they joined with Rainforest Rescue in assisting their work in buying back and preserving the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland.
Leadership and women
Pam is passionate about inspiring others value-add to their farm businesses and encouraging the growth, diversification and innovation of the macadamia industry. As a mentor, she hopes to inspire others to do the same.
As Convener of the Northern Rivers Food Group, created to support and develop local food producers, Pam plays an active role by mentoring other businesses. She is a member of the Australian Macadamia Society, Board Member of the Australian Landcare Council and an active member of three Landcare groups.