Chestnuts are coming into their own as a healthy food alternative and Victorian farmers, including David McIntyre, are ready to reap the benefits.

Story By Sheridan Rogers

Chestnut farmer David McIntyre is a mover and shaker. Not only does he rarely stand still, but during harvest he spends most of his time shaking the trees in his orchard. A keen cyclist (he rides more than 100 kilometres a week) and sole operator of his nine-hectare farm in the picturesque rolling hills of Stanley, north-east Victoria, it can often be difficult to locate him. “If I’m not up at the house or in the shed, you’ll find me down the road in the orchard,” he says. “You’ll know where I am from the noise of the Tonutti [suction harvester].” Driving down the bumpy road from the house and into his “garden in the forest”, a loud hoovering sound can be heard halfway down the hill. It doesn’t take long to spot him, not far from the Tonutti, holding a long pole with a hook attached and vigorously shaking a tree. “This is the best way to get chestnuts down,” he says from under the tree. “They’re really spiky. Once they’re on the ground, I hoover them up with the hose while the Tonutti de-husks them and spits the husks out in piles behind. Later on, I mulch the husks and spread them back on the orchard.” The Tonutti is a twin-hose suction harvester that makes so much noise David has to wear earmuffs when operating it. During harvest, which lasts six to eight weeks starting in March, he moves swiftly through the orchard, shaking the trees and vacuuming up the chestnuts. It’s labour-intensive work and he does it all on his own.

This story excerpt is from Issue #63

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2009