WORDS BY LARINE STATHAM-BLAIR
White-bellied sea eagle nests are built of the strongest materials to weather storms and evade predators. Unlike other bird species, these majestic raptors return to the same nest to raise their offspring. They gradually renovate the nest, making it larger and sturdier each time they lay their eggs. Much like these regal Australian birds, the Gerry family started with a strong foundation built by Ron and Marion Steinhardt. With mettle and loyalty, Janelle and Andrew Gerry, Janelle’s brothers and their families have turned the family farm and business into one of Bundaberg’s crowning jewels.
Janelle said some of her fondest memories were on the family farm, swimming in Yellow Water Holes and sitting by a campfire with her parents, Ron and Marion, and brothers, Trevor and Kevin Steinhardt (pictured inset). “Growing up, our Goodwood Road property was a sanctuary, filled with happiness. Making billy tea and damper is something we continue to enjoy today with our adult children, Rachel and Luke, and their partners, Drew and Elise (Ellie),” Janelle said.
Today, the Steinhardt farm remains Janelle and Andrew’s family home, but is also the site of Farmfresh Fine Foods, Macadamias Australia and The Orchard Table Café. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing children running through our orchard, cracking nuts and people enjoying family time together at the Visitor Experience and Café that we opened in October 2021,” Janelle said. “Our late parents would have loved this place, where we share our food and family history through interactive screens and tours.”
In 1958 Ron and Marion bought an unimproved parcel of land, which they cleared by hand to grow peanuts, sugarcane and a variety of vegetables. In 1980, under the name Steinhardt Family Farms, the family moved into large scale production of tomatoes and zucchinis and began supplying major supermarket chains. In 1998 they built Farmfresh Fine Foods, a food processing facility. In 2004, they planted macadamias and established several new orchards, before building a Visitor Experience and state-of-the-art macadamia cracking and processing facility to service growers across the Region.
Janelle said her parents instilled an ‘explorer spirit’ in she and her two brothers. “They taught us to challenge the status quo, find a better way, encourage freedom of thinking and to try new things,” she said.
It’s that spirit of growth that won them a swag of awards last year, including Bundaberg and District Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year and the Hinkler Innovation Award.
It’s fair to say many locals have been keenly watching on as the Steinhardt-Gerry family reinforce their nest; curious as to what they might add or do next. The answer will surprise many. Mid last year the family decided to invite third-party investors to submit proposals, with the family open to all scenarios.
In late January this year, they sold their macadamia cracking and processing facility, as well as the majority of their farms. Kevin has retained some macadamia farming property and Trevor will continue to own their Happy Nut products, which are enormously popular in overseas markets.
The Gerry family intend to invest in the business units they have retained, to accelerate their growth. The Gerry family – of Janelle, Andrew, Rachel and Luke – now own 100 per cent of the Macadamias Australia brand and the macadamia value-adding business, the Visitor Experience and Café, and Farmfresh Fine Foods. Retaining the home farm orchard was also deeply important to Janelle and Andrew. “We are thankful of what we have achieved together as a family to date and are excited about the next chapter,” Janelle said.
Sourcing local vegetables and turning them into roasted and par-fried frozen vegetables, purees and mashes for retailers, fast food chains, airlines and retirement homes, the Farmfresh Fine Foods plant is about to undergo volume expansion to meet growing demand for their product. “We will also be expanding the current Macadamias Australia retail range into more overseas markets and creating innovative new products,” Janelle said. “We hope to do more of the things we love, like hosting charity events such as the Farm Flavours Picnic.”
Janelle said her mum was a great entertainer. “She loved experimenting with local produce and used it in all her cooking. They were always welcoming people into their home, just as we love welcoming people into the Visitor Centre. I fondly remember a time when she hosted one of our Japanese buyers for lunch and served her homemade tomato chutney with the meal. The buyer loved the chutney so much that we ended up making it commercially at Farmfresh Fine Foods and it retailed in a high-end department store in Japan under the label ‘Mother Marion’s Chutney’. We now serve her chutney at The Orchard Table.”
Janelle is passionate about continuing her family legacy, and is determineed to positively impact the lives she touches. “When we feel the presence of others moving alongside us, there is little we cannot accomplish. We are so thrilled that Rachel and Luke have joined the business with us, building on their contribution to date.” The Gerry siblings both had successful careers before joining the family business – Luke was a professional tennis player and Rachel worked in strategic finance.
2023 is shaping up to be the Gerry family’s year. In January, Rachel and her husband Drew McAullay welcomed a new addition to the family. Baby Sienna is Janelle and Andrew’s first grandchild. Luke proposed to his girlfriend Elise Pearson.
“It is going to be a big year with Luke and Ellie’s wedding in November, but just as birds fly in perfect harmony in a V-formation, we move more swiftly when we move together,” Janelle said.
4625 Goodwood Road, Bundaberg 07 4159 7265