Along the Maroondah Highway, one of the arteries of the Yarra Valley, you will see so much of the regions offerings. Vineyards and townships change to forest and bushland and eventually open to broad acre farm land. Amongst these farms are rickety bridges and historic settlements. In the town of Acheron, you may pass the 150-year-old farm run by 4th generation potato farmer Geoff Dobson with his partner Bronwyn.
Upon arrival to the scenic location, the history is evident. From the old farm sheds to the huge oak trees that tower over them. We catch the Dobson's team in the middle of washing and sorting. Geoff and Bronwyn meet us with cold hands but warm smiles. The impressive machinery is “older than I can remember” Geoff tells us. The couple grow 14 varieties of potato, from Kipfler and Russet to the Patrone and Purple Congo. Stock is washed with fresh Goulburn River water that is recycled back on to their pastures. Once clean, they are sorted in to three grades and trucked off to some of Melbourne’s finest restaurants plus a select amount of grocery stores. Dobson’s also donate to Sacred Heart Mission on a regular basis. “The dud spuds are fed to our farms 400 Angus cattle.”
Since starting their business in 1975, Dobson's has always been disparate to the industry. “We’re artisan farmers, if that doesn’t sound too posh.” Geoff says humbly. “When we first started, the potato industry offered the consumer two options, brushed or washed.” Renowned restaurant critic, journalist and co-editor of The Age Good Food Guide Rita Erlich, wrote an article on the uninspiring variety of potatoes available at the time and Geoff rang her immediately. “I told her what we were doing out here and said ‘Just tell me who to get them in front of’”. Erlich gave Geoff the contacts to some top restaurants and green grocers in Melbourne and there began many loyal relationships that still last to this day. Support by personalities like Erlich and Stephanie Alexander have been a huge help to the brands notoriety. Geoff sees marketing as a big part of the brands success. “We’re all about good old fashioned service,” and running a boutique brand means there is plenty of interaction with customers. “Whenever we’re in the city, we love to visit the restaurants and hotels we supply to.”
We’re offered coffee in the barn where they sort and pack their produce. “There was very dense bush all through this area before farms were established. Shocking erosion caused by bad farming practices has changed the landscape in a lot of places.” Geoff says some housing development actually saves some of the countryside from being completely worn out. The Dobson’s 2300-acre property has a diverse mix of sandy and dark clay loam. They’ve experimented planting Certified Growsfarm seed, in a host of different spots around the farm. “We’ve really had the most success in the areas of fertile heavy clay soil that the Goulburn flats are famous for.” Bronwyn says.
As we finish our coffee and slice, Geoff says, “It would be so hard to establish a potato farm now, it’s so competitive.” The Dobson’s difference is that they’ve been able to offer a wide variety of potatoes direct to a discerning customer, an increasingly conscious consumer
of quality, care of origin and difference from the mainstream.
Stones of the Yarra Valley is proud to have worked with Dobson's since we first opened nearly 11 years ago.