So many of us romanticise about a “green change” but this husband-and-wife duo actually did it. Emily and Chris Shipway purchased 23 acres in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills which is home to an apple orchard. With absolutely zero farming experience they somehow manage the farm entirely on their own.
It’s not quite commercially viable yet so they do all of this while still nursing and raising a family. Anyone can come along to experience the magic that is @Lenswood because they’ve opened the farm gates to run a Pick Your Own experience.
Emily and Chris simply wanted to live in a place where they could watch things grow and make people happy.
“It sounds extremely cliché but that’s all there is to it. Both of us went into nursing wanting to provide people with comfort and have a rewarding career,” Emily said.
“It has been that but it’s also quite depressing at times and challenging. Spending the majority of your week in a hospital is hard going. Funnily enough, opening this orchard up the public has actually made us feel like we are doing the exact same thing we set out to do in nursing, which sounds stupid because they are just apples!” Emily laughs.
“We are making people happy and seeing that happiness over the simple things.”
A trait my husband and I have in common is, if someone tells us we can’t do something, then it’s like watch us!”
Bringing back old school
The Shipways are the proud owners of 12,000 apple trees ranging from Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Sundowners, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Fuji, Gala and Rosy Glow – a variety developed in Lenswood itself.
“We’ve got a lot of those favourites that people love. We’re also thinking of planting those older varieties that you don’t see any more like Jonathon so people can come and pick the apples they ate as a kid,” explains Emily.
Buying an established commercial orchard with no experience is certainly brave but Emily says their friends and family had another word for it.
“They thought we were crazy!” she laughs. The most common question they were asked is “Why?” but they’ve risen beyond the doubt. “A trait my husband and I have in common is, if someone tells us we can’t do something, then it’s like watch us!”
Adjusting from city life
The family arrived with a push mower and a ute. “I came from a 360 square metre block. I was really good at growing weeds in my front driveway. No experience whatsoever. My husband drove a Magna. There was literally nothing. We’ve had to completely establish ourselves,” says Emily.
“The first thing we bought was a ride on lawn mower which is laughable because you can’t use that in an orchard anyway!”
We’re not here to step on anyone’s toes. We’re here to support our new industry that we’re in.”
They have come a long way since then. Depending on the season, a normal day could involve hosting the public in autumn, pruning in winter, spraying in spring. “There’s always something to fix or do. You become quite resilient,” says Emily.
The town of Lenswood is famous for apples and the Shipways have had to earn the respect of other seasoned local growers.
“The previous owners have been amazing. They were sixth generation growers. The one who has been showing us the ropes is about to retire. We get to mop that up like a sponge. We’re not here to step on anyone’s toes. We’re here to support our new industry that we’re in,” says Emily.
A hands on approach
These days, Emily speaks like a seasoned apple grower. So, was it easy to learn or harder than she expected?
“A hundred billion times harder than what I thought! I literally said to my husband, ‘If we can’t afford to prune, it’s ok. They’re apple trees, they’ll just grow. They won’t all of a sudden grow mandarins.’ I’ve eaten my words up over and over again,” recalls Emily.
“They are all hand-picked, hand-pruned, hand-thinned. It’s so much work to get the apples there!
“I think it’s hard even if you know what you are doing. I have a newfound respect for farming.”
Emily has learnt the hard way that farming involves lots of science, trouble-shooting and sheer hard work. But she also says it’s a rewarding path.
“The unique thing about us coming into this, is we know how to think like a mum and dad wanting to do something with their kids on the weekend. It’s easy for us to think like consumers,” explains Emily.
I think it’s hard even if you know what you are doing. I have a newfound respect for farming.”
Their business model is about integrating agriculture with tourism. “You can pick your own, eat as many as you like. We have games. We have tractors. We’re there for people to speak to as well.”
This is only year one for the Shipways, and there’s more to come in their story. They’re also exploring group tours, school excursions, weddings, and accommodation. Also look out for @Lenswood dehydrated apples, preserves and juice – coming soon!
“The good thing about the boring apple orchard we bought is you can do anything with them.”
Emily’s top growing tips for those backyard growers are:
- Older trees may only produce apples every two years.
- Prune in winter to allow light into the canopy.
- Trim some of the buds and apples in spring to allow the tree to make quality fruit instead of large quantities.
- Net the tree to protect against predators.
For someone who is new to apple growing, she’s spoken like a true expert. Plus, there are no regrets. “Don’t get to the stage of saying ‘I wish’. Just give it a go. If I can do something new, you can as well.”
There’s some inspiration for anyone thinking about that “green change”!