They were the first family in Australia to grow organic quinoa commercially, and now the Damens can add a new achievement to their list – award-winning spelt.
Lauran and Henriette Damen, and their son Peter Damen, have been running Kindred Organics for more than a decade.
While they traditionally focused on quinoa, their wholemeal spelt flour was recently recognised at the national Delicious Food Awards, taking out the gold medal in the From the Earth category. Specialising in superfoods, the Damens grow, process and package spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, and oats, as well as grassfed beef onsite at their 237-hectare farm at Kindred.
And while organic farming has its benefits, the farmers work around-the-clock to achieve that perfect crop.
“Organic farming is more labour intensive than conventional so our work is more like an annual cycle than week to week,” Mr Peter Damen said.
“We’re at the mercy of the seasons and the weather – parts of spring, summer and autumn, we work from 6am until 10pm seven days a week, and in parts of winter we can take some time off.
“We do it because we think there are health benefits to organic food and because it’s a more natural way of farming, working with nature instead of against it.”
Quinoa, and organic farming, has not always been popular though. When the Damens first ventured into the quinoa business, they had to educate buyers on the product.
“Not many people knew much about quinoa when we started growing it more than a decade ago,” Mr Damen said.
“We had to develop our own markets and had to inform people what it was we were selling, how to cook it, how to eat it.
“Then all of a sudden it became popular – Oprah Winfrey started talking about it and we couldn’t keep up with sales.”
Not only was quinoa a rare commodity, but organic farming was a new challenge for the Damen family as well.
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“When we transitioned into organic, we needed different crops – there were already organic farms producing vegetables so we needed to find a niche,” Mr Damen said.
“We tried growing hundreds of different crops to see what worked organically and what didn’t.”
He described quinoa as a “very fussy” crop, which preferred to be grown in cooler climates, making North-West Tasmania the perfect location.
“Kindred is a traditional farming area – mostly vegetables have been farmed there over generations,” he said.
“It’s that classic North-West rolling green hills and there’s fertile red dirt that’s perfect for growing vegetables and crops.”
As for their spelt, the process from planting to harvest is about eight months.
“We plant the spelt in the autumn then use specialty equipment to control weeds organically and plant legumes under the spelt crop at the same time,” Mr Damen explained.
“We harvest it in the summer and then we clean out any impurities like weed seeds. Once we have the grain, we mill it on site as well, using an Austrian wooden stone mill.
“The stone ground is a slow milling process that doesn’t burn the flour as it mills it and keeps most of the enzymes and good proteins intact. That makes it different to the standard flour you buy, which is very refined and processed.”
Another unique process the family prides themselves on is how they roll their oats.
“Our oats are very popular, they are cold rolled and unstabilised, which means they have less of a shelf life, but more flavour and nutrients in them,” Mr Damen said.
“Most rolled oats are steam sterilised, which removes a lot of the goodness that we’re able to keep in our product by cold rolling.”
Kindred Organics remains the only commercial organic quinoa grower in the country.
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