Mitch Kelly - Vineyard Foreman

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A farming career was never the plan for 28-year-old Mitch Kelly.

Actually, for a while, Orange-based Mitch didn't have a plan at all. He'd always wanted to join the Air Force and become a mechanic but was unable to pursue that dream thanks to a slightly crooked back. “I left school at the end of Year 10 and things just weren’t happening for me”.

One morning, shortly after he left school, Mitch's father, who worked in viticulture, woke him early  and simply said; “pack some lunch, you’re coming to work with me".

Day one of Mitch’s farming career was a solid eight hours of chipping burrs so you wouldn’t blame him for making it his last too. But as it turns out, Mitch’s father did him a great favour that day.

“Farming suits me perfectly,” he says. “I love being outside in the fresh air, love the satisfaction I get from helping the vineyard grow and produce beautiful fruit, and can honestly say it’s a rare day I don’t come home with a smile on my face”. Mitch is also an amateur botanist and bird watcher, so during ‘smoko’ you’ll often find him looking skyward, searching for his favourite birds and studying their movements.

Twelve years since starting out, and he has worked his way up to the role of Vineyard Foreman for Jarretts Wines, one of the Central West’s most innovative and successful grape growing operations. And with a one-year TAFE certificate in viticulture under his belt, plans to enrol in some further education. Not right now though; a busy job and young family, leaves little time for extra study.

Mitch and his wife have three small children and live in Orange, a twenty-five minute drive to the Jarrett’s vineyard. They dream of one day moving out to the country but have a six-year-old daughter with type 1 diabetes, so right now the family needs to stay in town to be close to the hospital and other support.

And while Mitch loves his job and respects his employer Justin (above) he does admit that it’s not easy to get ahead on farming wages. “Most of my mates are either in trades or mining,” he says, “and those jobs pay a lot more than farming."

"It's hard to raising a family in a mining town when you aren’t on a mining salary.”

Right now he is overseeing the pruning of Jarrett’s 130-hectare vineyard and has two teams of 10 men and women working their way through each row. As they work, a cloud of little birds swoop down and across us. Mitch identifes them immediately. They are Starlings he says. An introduced species and a real pest in the vineyard. Mitch can identify pretty much any bird and plant species in this area, which is handy when it comes to pest control on the farm.

There’s no such thing as an average day for this young farmer. Right now he starts at around 7.30am and usually heads home between 4.30 and 5pm. But as he says, grape growing is intensive horticulture so there are times when the workload is intensive too. The eight weeks (or so) of harvest can mean working through the day and night, seven days a week. But, “the sight of those trucks leaving our vineyard at the end of harvest, chock full of top quality grapes makes it all worth it.”

The Jarrett family, with Mitch’s help, grow grapes for a number of wineries, including possibly Australia’s most famous producer; Casella Wines. Mitch works with the Casella growers liaison officer throughout the growing season but particularly in the days leading up to harvest. “We are out there constantly checking sugar and acid levels of the grapes. As I said, it’s intense!”

For someone who’s never had a big interest in the world of wine, Mitch is learning a great deal about it - almost despite himself. “I like wine but don’t really want to spend all day sniffing and dissecting each sip.” And for someone who never saw himself working in farming, he also seems to be made for it. With a long term goal to either own, operate or be involved in a successful, large scale horticulture enterprise, Mitch Kelly is certainly well on his way.


Post a Comment

One Farm Day All rights reserved © Blog Milk - Powered by Blogger