What else would two attractive, vivacious, UK born growers of chilli, garlic and herbs call their business? Actually they would call it "Spice Girlz of MacLarenVale", to avoid confusion with the (locally) less well-known all-girl pop group, and to convince the registrar of business names that they are different to the other lot. Different they are, and interesting too! They have combined small scale organic production, local food gleaning, gourmet cooking, good humour and a great sense of word-play, different and quirky marketing (such as product names) and colourful banter with the Willunga Farmers Market customers, to provide a unique product and fun product presentation.
They say they thought people would remember the name. Most people would remember these girls anyway. Good looks, good humour and quality produce combine to make them very memorable, and as they say, everyone calls us the girls anyway. Everyone agrees the name is so much better than MacLaren Vale herbs.
In reality these two spicey women are Mikeala Willford and Samantha Organ. They began several years ago growing organic herbs, lettuce and some other veg (such as beetroot and cherry tomatoes) for local restaurants and a few shops. They soon realised that while there was a market, and local restaurants really appreciated the fresh veg, they could grow more produce than they could easily sell. At first they gave a lot of produce away (they had 20 varieties of chilli at this time), and later decided to use some of the excess for their own purposes. Soon they had some usable recipes, and a small value adding business developed gradually and in small stages.
Value adding is now 70% of the business for the Spice Girlz. They combine their own produce with purchases of Fleurieu-grown product and gleanings from the local area. For instance a neighbour, Peter Hoffmann has 32 lime trees that he was not harvesting from. Originally the Spice Girlz intended to sell the fruit at the Willunga Farmers Market, then they discovered that citrus is still a closed shop until 2003, so they developed a recipe for lime chutney. They call it 'Cor Blimey', and thereby add another interesting and tasty line to their varied display at the Farmers Market. The next project is to develop a product from some plum trees on their own farm, that as rather neglected and overgrown. The Spice Girlz are unsure of the recipe yet, but guarantee it will contain chilli. They hope to locate other plantations and develop more products, to save them from the bulldozer, which gives them great satisfaction. They are aware that many other old farmhouses have significant home orchard plantings, and see a healthy future in processing more gleaned produce which might otherwise fall on the ground and be wasted.
Local Willunga Almonds and olive oil are combined with their own basil, to make a regionally-relevant pesto.
These products are still sold almost entirely within the region, and while there is a special focus on the Willunga farmers markets, other components of the business include restaurants, cellar door outlets, cafes and gift shops, such as Brian's Olive Shop in McLaren Vale. Local fruit and veg stores are no the smallest market, especially since the organic focus of one local shop disappeared when it changed hands.
Production is obviously very seasonal, depending on what is available. Sugar and vinegar are the main products they purchase and the only ones that are not locally grown and organic. They are also currently purchasing dried chilli. This is done partly to provide out-of-season spice, but also because, growing so many varieties leads to some inconsistency in strength and flavour, whereas they need consistency for their recipes. Consistency within each recipe is balanced by the ever-changing seasonal production and exploration with new recipes and new varieties of produce as they discover how to grow or glean it. Their stall may include chilli chocolate, chilli jam.
The growing system utilises NASAA certified compost and mulch from Peat's Soil, composted chicken manure and spent mushroom compost, spread onto 40 raised beds.
The Spice Girlz began as keen amateur gardeners, both were born in the UK and both had gardening grandmothers who taught them a lot about horticulture. Sam learnt some basic horticulture from her plot at the Willunga High School, and they have learnt as much as possible by practical experience in their own garden. They give credit also to seedling supplier Hillside Herbs, other local nurseries and Peter Bennett's excellent organic gardening book.
They say that locals often stop to talk while they are working in the field. They are glad to see some diversity remaining amongst the vines. The area was originally known for almonds, with vines, stone fruit and cereals also being important, but also a variety of other produce, including small-scale market gardening. This diversity started slowly disappearing about 35 years ago, but is now rapidly diminishing as the green cancer (vines) slowly overtakes the Southern Vales. Well, it does produce some of the best Shiraz in the world, with many awards to prove it, but the oldies (and the younger neighbours) still lament the bulldozing of remnant almonds and derelict horticulture.
More power to the Spice Girlz.
We think the Spice Girlz look good without the tizz and razzamatazz of the pop group, and we don't think the pop group would do so well growing herbs and spices, after all. How do you apply eye makeup after harvesting fresh chillis?