Making A Tree Change: Nursing To Growing Custard Apples

Custard apple grower Patti Stacey in her orchard at Dalwood in northern New South Wales
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Jan 12, 2022

From nursing to becoming a farmer, Patti Stacey from Dalwood, NSW, explains how she became a custard apple grower.

Somehow I’ve always known I’d end up working on the land. It’s physical work and a far cry from the glamorous bars and bustling streets of Sydney, but there’s a certain freedom and beauty about life on the farm that is really fulfilling.

There’s certainly no shortage of jobs to do in any one day on the farm – whether it be out pruning the trees, maintaining our irrigation system, or packing and distributing the fruit. Running a farm with only two people, we’ve definitely got our hands full.

Rewind to when I was in my early 20s – I knew nothing about farming. I grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, met my husband, Phil, and we built a life for ourselves. I was a nurse, and Phil was in publishing.

Inspirational Woman: From Sydney's Northen Beaches To Northern NSW
Fresh Custard apples

Our taste for adventure got the better of us, and we packed our bags and travelled the world, starting in South Africa. We crossed through Europe, Asia, Africa and even Afghanistan. In fact, we covered 47 countries in four years thanks to our trusty Land Rover, which served us well.

After so much time on the road, when the crunch time came to settle back into Sydney city life, we decided it just wasn’t right for us. We waved goodbye to the city, embarked on a tree-change to the countryside, and found the home we were looking for in Alstonville, a town half way between Ballina and Lismore in Northern NSW.

Establishing our commercial custard apple farm, the Sunmist Orchard, turned out to be a case of trial and error. When we first arrived in Alstonville, the area was farmed for mostly sugar cane and dairy, rather than tropical fruits like the luscious custard apple. We thought that the sub-tropical climate would lend itself to exotic fruits so we tried lychees and avocados as well as stone fruits before focusing solely on Australian custard apples.

Custard apples
Custard apples

We found plenty of like-minded folk who had also moved from the city in pursuit of farm life and formed the exotic fruit growers association, through which we traded growing information. We also received help from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, as Queensland is the birthplace of exotic fruits in Australia. We continued to teach ourselves via experience and supported our family by taking shift work in our other occupations when we could. I took up casual nursing work and Phil took shifts at the local newspaper. Ten years of hard work later, production was enough to make a living.

Inspirational Woman: From Sydney's Northen Beaches To Northern NSW

In our case, taking a chance to pursue our dream was worth it, and we’ve never looked back since! The Sunmist Orchard has been a fabulous place to raise our two children. Our kids loved the tractor rides around our property and the wide-open lush surroundings that we call home. They are now grown up with children of their own and have the best of both worlds, living in Brisbane and Toowoomba, regularly visiting us at the farm.

Inspirational Woman: From Sydney's Northen Beaches To Northern NSW

Having grown our farm from the ground up, we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and I must say, we never tire of eating custard apples! Their sweet and smooth flesh is very versatile – I cut them open and eat them with spoon for breakfast, or add them as condiment to curry for dinner. We can’t wait to share the current crop with everyone and will be busy distributing freshly picked custard apples throughout autumn and winter. Hope you enjoy them!


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