Article by Andrea Paran
Last month Langdale Orchards, a regular at our farmers markets, celebrated its 160th birthday. Congratulations team! For over six generations the Lang family have developed and tended to their orchard, growing high quality, fresh fruit for everyone to enjoy.
Nestled in the Harcourt Valley, at the foot of Mount Alexander in Victoria’s central highland, the farm is located in one of the five main commercial apple growing regions in Victoria. Here you’ll find hundreds of hectares of apple orchards blanketing the surrounding hills.
The orchard was established in 1858 by James Lang – who had visited the Harcourt region in his youth. He moved his family and settled into the property he called ‘Langdale’ which was developed into the orchard that still stands today. Langdale Orchard was one of the three original orchards that founded the fruit industry in the Harcourt Valley. James Lang even exported fruit back to the UK in the 1870’s, pioneering the export of fruit from the area. In 1908, the Victorian Minister for agriculture declared: “There is no greater authority on apples in the state than Mr. Lang”.
Today, the face of Langdale Orchards is Gavin and Carol Lang. They returned to the farm in 1997, with two children in tow, to join Gavin’s parents and work on the orchard. A few years later Gavin’s father passed away, however his mother still lives in the original 1874 homestead and even helps make the farms jams and preserves! They are the sixth generation to grow fruit in the Harcourt Valley and you can meet them both at one of our farmers market.
So what sort of produce do they sell? The Orchard grows 11 varieties of apples including the ever-popular Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Lady Williams, Sundowner and Bonza plus the interesting heirloom varieties: Jonagold, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Snows. With such a large variety growing you can be sure to find a delicious apple all year round. The orchard also grows five varieties of pears including Beurre Bosc, Packham, Josephine, Corella and Winter Nealis.
Amazingly, some of the pear trees are over 100 years old and are still producing fruit! Carol and Gavin’s mother also hand make a variety of preserves including seven different jams (apricot, quince, mulberry, blackberry, youngberry, peach & ginger, and fig), two types of jelly (apple and quince), two types of sauce (tomato and plum) and two types of chutney (pear & sultana and tomato). Incredibly they are all produced using an old wood stove in Gavin’s mother’s house which is a registered kitchen! And finally, there’s the preservative free, dried pink lady apples. So much deliciousness!
The farming industry is not an easy road and the orchard has faced many hardships in its 160 years. There have been environmental issues such as hail, drought, extreme heat and gusty winds, animal pests such as kangaroos and cockatoos – who love to feed on the fruit, to advances in technology and the ever-changing markets. To survive despite these tough circumstances is no mean feat and is the result of a lot of hard and emotional work. Where does the family see itself in the future? Carol herself doesn’t recommend the hard farming life for her children. They are currently working in unrelated fields and it leaves the future of this long-standing celebrated farm in doubt. (You can hear more of Carol’s thoughts in our Podcast series found on the Melbourne Farmers Market website.)
Over the years, the orchard has been reduced in size from about 70 acres to less than 20 acres. There are still between 7000 to 8000 trees, however the farm has chosen to also run a small number of beef cattle on the free land. In the short term the farm will continue to supply quality apples and pears to the local farmers markets and fruit shops. But Gavin says: “Long term, I think we will continue to scale back the orchard to retirement, and then we will probably use the land to keep a few more cows. We want to continue living in the area for as long as we can and continue to enjoy the lifestyle.”
The Langdale Orchard have been selling their hand-picked and unwaxed fruits at farmers markets for 13 years. You can meet the family and try some of their delicious produce at the Collingwood, Carlton, Melbourne University or Alphington Farmers Market. Check our website for stallholder details and dates.