Resting her arms on the porch of the family home, Katie Baker soaks up the native Australian landscape. Unbounded prairies with groves of olive trees stretch beyond the eye and melt into the soft ember horizon. Two decades of hard work and devotion have been poured into the soil before her by parents Gesine and Colin Owen.
Spread across 1200 acres on the Southern Downs, family owned and run business Coolmunda Olives encapsulates what it means to live and breathe an eco-friendly ethos. “Sustainability and being friendly to the earth are things my parents are really passionate about. They love plants and watching things grow, which is how Coolmunda Olives was born,” Katie explains.
The grove is home to more than 7000 olive trees, where olives are carefully handpicked then naturally fermented or pressed with the family’s own machine imported from Italy. The fruits of their labour are divine — organic table olives and premium, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. “I moved here with my family when I was about seven or eight and we lived in a refurbished Queenslander that used to be the old hospital in Inglewood,” Katie reminisces. “My siblings and I spent a lot of our childhood planting the trees. We started planting in 1998, around 500 per year.”
First emerging as an organic label in 2005, Katie has taken the reigns as manager of the family business. With three children of her own, Katie manages the grove from her home in Brisbane, handling the distribution, invoices, marketing and emails. “I’d really like to continue what my parents have created. They’ve built an amazing structure … I’m hoping I can keep that going. I want to take the pressure off them.”
Despite living in Brisbane, Katie has always loved the country. “As my children are growing up and need me less, I’m really drawn to [the farm]. Not only because of the hope that I can take Coolmunda Olives to the next level, but because I really like the lifestyle — the peace, the trees and everything that you’ve got out there.” Despite numerous retailers and restaurants supporting the brand, like Brookfield’s Wild Canary Bistro, the organic nature of the olives makes them difficult to mainstream. “They’re smaller and don’t have as vibrant a colour as olives that aren’t organic. Because they don’t have any additives at all, they don’t look as impressive as the olives you see in supermarket delis — the bright big green ones.”
But her parents’ love for organic produce and wider mission to live sustainably supersedes the hardships of competing in the food industry. “They’re most interested in what’s worthwhile for the environment.” Subsequently, the quality of produce is never compromised to boost the crop’s yield, and the olives are only pressed once to make “light, crisper and fresher” olive oil. As a result, customers are often pleasantly surprised when they try Coolmunda Olives. “It’s not only because they’re organic, it’s also the freshness and the care we take with them. Our olives have a distinct taste and flavour.”
Packed with passion and love, each Coolmunda olive represents the grove’s mission for a greener earth.
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