Melissa Sheppard, founder of Mormor Food is just as passionate about supporting local as us. In fact, her entire business is reliant on the connections she has with local farmers in the Lockyer Valley where she calls home. Utilising the region’s rich offering of fresh produce is a blessing, and yet is one of her biggest challenges.
In this interview Melissa shares with us what the word Mormor means and how family has and continues to play a vital role in Mormor Food.
Mormor Food's Parsley Vaxtkraft is featured in our Oct/Nov 18' Discovery Box
What's your food philosophy?
My food philosophy is to eat as local as possible. That also means that as a family we eat seasonally and we enjoy super fresh, nutritious food.
I lived in the U.K. for about eight years in my twenties and during that time there was an increasing discussion and focus on food miles and an education campaign to understand the link between the environmental impact of food miles on the environment. It’s a concept that I really resonated with and it’s been a huge influence to the way feel I feel about food labelling, seasonal food and food that has travelled thousands of miles to get to our fridges and pantries.
As a consumer, it’s important to me that I support local farmers and the local economy. As a producer myself, it’s important to me that I source as local as possible, to not only ensure a high quality product but to also know how the food was grown and produced.
What was your inspiration behind starting Mormor Food (and its name)?
With a toddler and a baby in tow, our family moved to a 50 hectare hobby farm in the Lockyer Valley. I had been making an absolute knockout of a vegetable stock for a number of years and our move to Australia’s salad bowl gave me the opportunity to source produce directly from local farmers. It was also good opportunity for me being a new resident to connect with the local community and to start a small business.
My vegetable stock concentrates are based on a recipe given to me by my Swedish mother in law. The name Mormor in Swedish and means mother’s mother (grandmother or nan). I wanted to keep a Swedish theme to my business to acknowledge the Swedish connection. One day I hope I’m fortunate to be blessed with the title of Mormor. It’s also a nice play on words as I hope that once you try my products, you’ll be wanting more more! Win win all-round I reckon.
Can you tell us about the region you live in, "Australia's Salad Bowl", and your relationship with local farmers?
The Lockyer Valley produces approximately 80% of the nation’s winter vegetables. It’s mind bending to think that such a small area can produce such a vast amount of food. The region is blessed with fertile black soils and an ideal winter growing climate. It’s been our home now for the past five years and it’s interesting to see how the environment can directly impact the availability of fresh produce and the impact that has had on my business and also the farmers directly.
This year’s warmer winter has meant that some herbs haven’t been available as early as expected and the drought here has certainly had an impact on the availability to produce.
I’m thankful to have received so much support from local farmers. The most rewarding part of my job is to connect with farmers and witness the pride they have in the produce they grow. I received a lot of help and advice and from local farmers and my relationship with them has grown to one of friendship. I’m also new to farming myself so it’s been a valuable opportunity to learn about farming from the farming families who have been in the area for generations.
Lockyer Valley region. Image by North Queensland Register
As a small batch producer, what's the most challenging aspect to your job?
The most challenging aspect is juggling the time frames of availability for each herb and vegetable I need to source for my stocks. The growing seasons don’t always line up with current environmental conditions or economics so a constant supply of produce isn’t possible if I want to source locally. I need to have good relationships with the farmers I source produce from so I can make the most of the growing windows available.
And the most rewarding?
- Receiving bronze and silver awards at the Sydney Fine Food Show was a real accolade and affirms my products are high quality.
- Farmers who support me and believe in my product.
- A growing fan base of repeat customers
- Support from our local Lockyer Valley Regional Council and local food ambassadors and heroes. It’s a real thrill to be told by chef’s that my stock concentrates are the best available.
Your a mum to three beautiful children, any tips on how you balance the growth of your business and motherhood?
My motto is that you can achieve everything, just not at the same time. It’s a juggle for sure, not necessarily a balance at the moment. I’ve cut back on production to enjoy being a full time mum to a new baby and two little ones. I’ve missed out on opportunities to market and grow my business this year but I really want to nurture and spend time with my kids.
I’m always looking for ways to improve Mormor Food so this time is a good opportunity to reflect and make plans to continue to build my business in 2019.
If we looked inside your fridge what would we find?
It is full. It’s always full. 90% of the contents is fresh food. It’s funny I think of my husband when you ask me this question. He always looks in the fridge saying there’s nothing to eat but it really doesn’t take long to whip up a platter. The ingredients are always there, the hungry ones just need a little bit of flare and creativity.
I’m sure the avocado lovers out there would appreciate my three tiered rotation system of ripeness of ensure we have at least two ripe avocados available each day to enjoy.
What's your favourite season for food and why?
Autumn. I love the relief of the cooler nights after a hot summer. I always start to sleep better and I relish that feeling of cosiness. The weather also sparks my need for comfort food which to me means soup.
What advice would you give to someone who's considering launching their own food business?
The best advice I think I can give is that I think one needs to have a niche. It’s difficult to compete with a lot of other producers who make a similar product to you. A point of differentiation is really important. Ask questions. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to seek advice. Local council and other local businesses should be there to support and guide you for if you succeed, they will benefit too.
Don’t forget to be grateful to the people and businesses who do help you. Acknowledge them personally and publicly. After all, good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.
What is one thing you couldn't work without?
Easy to answer. My family. Everyone has pitched in selflessly to help make my dream a reality. My mother in law has spent hours and hours helping me refine the recipe and helped me in the kitchen. My father in law has been willing to help out however we need – usually babysitting duties. My husband will give up his weekends to run around the country to help pick up produce or help in the kitchen. My mother, sister, godmother and many other family friends have helped me so much.
Family love is the unwritten but key ingredient in my business.
If you weren't a food producer what would you be doing?
The hardest question. I think I’ll always be a food producer. I’ll always, no matter where I live, seek out and make something (food related) I hope is unique and delicious. I’ve worked hard to have been able to experience a lot of different careers and the more I mature, the more important it is for me to have a creative outlet.
I think the ultimate job for my husband and I (apart from being parents) is our dream to one day farm full time. At the moment, we farm part time, we’ve been able to set up our farm as a a viable business but we don’t have the ability to earn a full time income. This has its advantages and disadvantages in that we don’t have to rely on a farm income if there is a bad season and we have the ability to go to professional jobs.
We love that our children get to experience space, we are able to take small risks and learn as we go about farming. I miss the city and all its excitement and energy but I honestly can’t see myself moving closer to a city any time soon. If anything, I crave more land and more isolation and the peace and stillness that comes with it.
What would your ultimate last supper be?
A plate of steamed local veggies smothered with a good quality and very salty butter with a giant glass of fine red wine. Enjoyed in the company of loved ones.
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