Without agricultural experience, this couple buys an apple orchard. Their bet pays off

Chris and Emily Shipway’s move to a nine-hectare apple orchard in the Adelaide Hills has shocked many people.

“Everyone literally thinks we’re crazy about what we bought because it was important. We bought an area of ​​12,000 apple trees and we had no equipment,” says Chris.

Adelaide’s intensive care nurses met on the night shift in 2016. Apart from their work, they had in common a desire to live in the countryside.

“We both wanted a sort of lifestyle in the hills, [but] we’ve never felt so intense,” says Emily.

The Shipways Orchard is a slightly larger project than the couple originally planned.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

After two years of studying cherries, vineyards and cattle properties, Emily and Chris settled into a commercial apple orchard in Lenswood in 2019.

The couple moved into the property, known as @Lenswood Pick Your Own, with a push mower, a ute, and then their six-year-old daughter, Daisy.

It’s fair to say that their introduction to farming in the apple capital of South Australia was a major learning curve.

For the first two years, the previous owners of the orchard leased the trees.

This is their first crop running. And they are determined to make it work.

It’s a big task as the couple continue to travel to Adelaide to work nights and meet the demands of their growing family with one-year-old Charlie.

New kids on the 130 block

When it comes to apples, Lenswood is the place to be.

The small town produces 85% of the state’s production and almost 10% of the national harvest.

Many producers are fifth or sixth generation.

That’s why the Shipways’ decision shocked producer and industry consultant Susie Green.

A man and a woman in nurse uniforms stand among the apple trees, laughing.
Emily and Chris Shipway tied the knot in 2021 after dating in 2016.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“It’s really rare for someone to get into the industry because it’s so difficult…especially in this area where we have such steep terrain and small blocks,” says Susie.

“Even producers who have been doing it for many generations have to be at the top of their game to do well.

It’s fair to say that the couple’s arrival has been met with some skepticism from local producers.

“Everyone looks at you like you’re completely crazy, but then they like you,” says Chris, 37.

Unlike others who bought land to grow trees or raise alpacas, the Shipways are keen to get into growing and selling apples.

But it’s harder than expected.

Rows of medium sized apple trees glisten under a setting sun.
There are 11 varieties of apples in the orchard.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“Nothing is a quick job. Something will break or just turn off the sprinklers [takes time]“, says Emily, 31 years old.

“You know, we’re not talking about little Bunnings. It’s all on this massive commercial scale for literally everything.”

All of this takes time and money.

“I had no idea tractors cost that much money. I walked past farmers and I was like ‘oh yeah, it’s a couple thousand dollars’ and they cost a couple hundred thousand dollars,” says Emily .

Aerial photo of a man walking towards a large water tank surrounded by lush trees.
Chris Shipway turns on the irrigation after the night shift.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“Talking to other farmers, they get into it because it has been passed on to them. [But] How do you concretely get started in agriculture?

“We went to university, we were told how to do our job and we did it. And there is support, there are books, there are courses, you have to be registered with an organization .While a farm, where are you going?

Do things differently

Besides trying to grow a decent crop, they are expanding the orchard operations.

“We try to make the boring apple something that people are really passionate about,” says Emily.

A long white corrugated iron shack overlooks the apple trees at sunset.
Emily and Chris are transforming this former Nissen cabin, once used as a WWII bunker, into luxury accommodation. (ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Their entrepreneurial spirit is particularly exciting for Susie Green, whose job it is to encourage growers to diversify their offerings.

“It was obvious that they were looking to break the mold and not do what everyone else is doing,” says Susie.

A mom, a dad and their two children are sitting on the back of a quad laughing.
Chris and Emily with Charlie, one, and Daisy, nine. (ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Since most apple growers in Lenswood focus solely on fruit production, the Shipways took inspiration from a nearby pear tree that got into agritourism.

Fourth generation grower Damian McArdle didn’t hesitate to do things differently than his predecessors.

“In 2012, my wife and I launched our own brand Paracombe Premium Perry. It was a diversification project to transform fruits that were not good for the fresh market into juices and ciders,” says Damian.

After two hundred-year-old hailstorms in one year, the couple opened the door to their cellar in 2018.

A man in a black hoodie and cap carries a tray of pizza, smiling.
Damian McArdle protected his family’s orchard from bad weather by diversifying his sources of income.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

“There were a lot of people who didn’t understand what we were trying to do and didn’t think it would work,” Damian says.

The cellar door, offering wood-oven pizzas and live music for weekends and events, is now their insurance policy against a bad fruit year.

A woman stands on a ladder picking pears from a tree.
Pickers at Damian’s Chamberlain orchards in Paracombe.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Bringing new blood to the industry

While diversification isn’t for everyone, Susie Green hopes Emily and Chris’ initiative will inspire other growers to step out.

With successive hits of hailstorms, bushfires and poor prices due to oversupply nationwide, this is a critical time for the local industry to sustain growers.

For some companies that don’t have this next generation coming, the pressure is on.

“We are seeing, especially in recent years, that a number of orchards have been sold across the region to lifestyle blocks,” says Susie.

An eight-year-old girl sits comfortably in the back of a quad holding an apple, smiling.
Daisy aspires to become an agronomist.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

Here for the long haul

Nowadays, Emily and Chris are taken a little more seriously.

“The other day an apple grower said to me at the post office, ‘I find you really, really inspiring and you do an amazing job.’ I just got in the car and wanted to cry because it meant so much,” says Emilie.

And although they are difficult, their new way of life is already having a profound impact on their lives.

Chris says the hospital is often not a happy place.

“Nurses and doctors try to make things comfortable as best they can, but I got sick of seeing people die. And apples grow,” he says.

Several red apples hang from a healthy tree on a sunny day.
Chris never owned an apple tree before buying the orchard with Emily.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

And after months of hard work, it seems to be paying off. The harvest looks surprisingly good.

“I literally walk up to an apple tree and say ‘Chris, they look like apples’. Is that silly?” said Emily.

“But we actually grew these apples, they’re commercial grade apples. Like we do, like everyone else does.”

And they plan to keep doing it for a while Again.

“I’m not leaving here unless I’m dragged out of here in my coffin. I want a road to be named after us, even if it has to be our driveway,” Emily said.

“I love that we’re part of it and we’re imposters. We’ll never be locals, but maybe our kids will be.

Two adults and two children walk along a row of apple trees at sunset.
The Shipways embrace life on land.(ABC Sud-Est SA: Bec Whetham)

About Keneth T. Graves

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