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Growing Innovation: Issue 15, September 15, 2016

“You get more out of your industry if you get involved”

Heather Kane, Tweenhills Chestnuts, NSW

Heather Kane and her husband, John, have been growing chestnuts in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales since 1997. “We absolutely love it, and because the chestnut industry is still quite a small and emerging one in Australia, there’s a lot of room to grow and new directions to explore,” Heather said.

One of the things Heather said she’d most like to see for the industry is the benefits of Australian chestnuts being shouted from the rooftops more. “Chestnuts are just a really great nut – and those of us who grow them know this – but I think some of the best things about them are undersold by the industry, particularly the strong health benefits like being gluten free, being a source of fibre and having low-GI status. They’re also such a versatile nut for people to cook with beyond simply roasting them. And on the whole, the industry uses very few chemicals. So there’s plenty for us to be shouting about.”

There’s a lot consumers don’t know about the basics of chestnuts too, which Heather said could be an opportunity for future education and market growth. “Because retailers don’t sell chestnuts by their varietal names, consumers don’t tend to realise there isn’t just ‘chestnuts’, but a whole lot of varieties with different flavour and peeling characteristics.”

With their Tweenhills Chestnuts business, Heather and John focus on growing the most consumer-friendly nuts. “Our emphasis on our farm is getting a quality product out to the consumer that’s easy to work with, for whatever cooking method they want. That’s why we’ve specialised in the Italian roasting-style chestnut De Coppi Marone. It’s a nice nut that tastes great and peels well,” Heather said. “On our 15 hectares we also grow Purton’s Pride and Bouche de Betizac chestnuts, plus a small quantity of others that we have to have for pollen. All up we have 1500 trees and produce about 10 tonnes annually.”

Heather said one of the best parts of the business was getting to deal directly with customers, who the Kane’s sell to online, at their property and when roasting chestnuts during winter at a local market. “We get to speak to so many people for whom roasted chestnuts bring back wonderful childhood memories. It’s really nice to get that cultural link between the product and the people.”

Sharing information and experiences with others in the industry – both in Australia and overseas – is another thing Heather loves.

“I think you get more out of your industry if you get involved,” Heather said. “It’s amazing what you can pick up by attending field days and chatting to people. And as a grower you can contribute in lots of different ways, whether that’s on the committee level, or opening your property up for someone to visit, or just offering a word of advice to someone.”

Heather is quite actively involved in the industry, having served as president of Chestnuts Australia from 2011 to 2103, and as chair of its R&D committee from 2006 to 2009. She is now a member of Hort Innovation’s Strategic Investment Advisory Panel for chestnuts, and is confident there are great levy-funded projects to come for the industry.

“It will be good for us to see continued work into the issue of internal rot in chestnuts which, being a cryptic disease, presents a serious quality issue for the industry. Research into Phytophthora, which causes root rot, is also important. Ongoing education of growers to ensure awareness of biosecurity issues is also needed, and there’s always scope for additional marketing.”

Heather said she’d also like to see more done on pollination (“One of the main pollinators isn’t a particularly nice nut to eat, but it’s out there in the market,” she said), and hopes the Australian industry can one day grow to explore all the things that can be done with chestnuts.

“It would be really good to have more processing of chestnuts,” she said. “We do have a couple of small-scale processors in Australia, but there’s so much we could do to make chestnuts available all year round, whether that’s making chestnut flour or chestnut pasta for example. When you look at Europe, chestnuts are used in the patisserie industry and food scientists are exploring industrial uses for processed chestnuts, such as use as thickening agents.”

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