Adelaide Hills apple dynasty growing fresh success

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By Melissa Keogh

Working with family can have its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but Adelaide Hills food technologist Joyce Ceravolo wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 29-year-old is a fourth-generation family member of Ashton-based fruit growers Ceravolo Orchards, producers of apples, pears, cherries and strawberries.

Studying law and chemical engineering at university, Joyce had ambitions to enter the cosmetics industry and even worked in dairy processing before the call of the family business was something she couldn’t ignore.

She now works alongside her brother Joseph, and together the siblings have taken the reigns of Ceravolo Orchards’ juicing business Ashton Valley Fresh.

The wholesale fresh cider and drinking juice business complements the family’s core operation, Ceravolo Orchards, which has seven growing sites across the Adelaide Hills and a strawberry farm at Myponga, all up employing about 150 people seasonally.

The Ceravolos have been involved in fruit growing and market gardening in the Hills for decades, with Joyce’s great-grandparents migrating from Italy to Australia in the 1950s.

The Ceravolo family of Ashton Valley Fresh and Ceravolo Orchards, from left, siblings Joseph and Joyce and their parents Sandra and Tony. Photo by James Knowler.

Her grandfather can still be spotted on a tractor chugging away in the orchards, while her father Tony and her other brother Ralph rise in the wee hours of the morning to truck wholesale fruit to the South Australian Produce Market in Pooraka.

Together, the Ceravolos run a multi-layered operation, with each generation of the family bringing a different work ethic and fresh ideas to ensure they stay in the game.

“We are all different,” Joyce says. “My grandparents’ generation is the careful, hard-working generation and my dad’s generation learnt to work smart but still thought everyone should work harder. My two brothers and myself very much employ the school of thought that if something can be made computerised or made easier, let’s do that.”

Ashton Valley Fresh was born in 2008 from a desire to expand the business’s portfolio and give local growers better returns on less than perfect fruit.

In 2013 Joyce and Joseph stepped in to run the juicing business with Joyce taking on the role of quality assurance manager, and Joseph becoming production manager.

“Joseph had never worked in food processing before, and I had come from dairy processing, so we both had a very steep learning curve together and it was incredibly challenging for the first two years,” Joyce says.

“But now we work together fantastically and I can’t imagine working with anybody else. We have an amazing synergy, we’re both forward thinkers, we like a fast-paced environment and we like innovation. It’s been really fun.”

Ashton Valley Fresh’s Hills Harvest juices.

The core part of Ashton Valley Fresh is juicing apples for the cider industry, with Hills Cider Company one of its major partners.

Joyce says the bulk juice side of the business continues to grow between 15–30% year on year, depending on the quality of the season.

Ashton Valley Fresh also has its own line of still and sparkling juices, free from added sugars and sold in supermarkets, greengrocers and other specialty retailers.

But it’s not just fruit and juice that keeps the Ceravolos busy.

On December 8 they’ll celebrate the opening of Lot 100, a cellar door, restaurant and function space in Nairne in the Adelaide Hills.

The combined production facility and visitor experience is a collaboration between Ashton Valley Fresh and three fellow local businesses, Hills Cider Company, Adelaide Hills Distillery and Mismatch Brewing Company.

“The benefit of joining with those companies is that we’re going to have a real paddock-to-plate experience there,” Joyce says.

“People are going to be able to see apples on the trees, the distillery processing the waste product from those apples, and see Mismatch brewing beer from our strawberry juice. Essentially it will give people that immersive experience so they can understand why their food costs what it does, why they should pay a premium price and why SA is an amazing place to do those things.”

This year is momentous for another important reason, Joyce is expecting her first child in December, and the Ceravolos are also in the running for a number of SA Food Industry Awards, announced on November 23.

Joyce is nominated for the Next Generation Award and her father Tony is up for the Leader Award. Ashton Valley Fresh is also in the running for the Business Excellence Award, Innovation in Food Award and the Sustainability Award.

Food South Australia CEO Catherine Sayer says Joyce is a great example of an emerging leader who has strong support from her family.

“Joyce has taken on leadership positions with the Apple and Pear Growers Association of SA and has recently joined the Food SA board so not only is she experiencing leadership in the family business, she is doing so industry wide,” she says.

The Ceravolo family in their Ashton orchard. Photo by Tricia Watkinson.

Catherine says strong leadership is critical for business and the state’s economy.

“The SA food and beverage industry is largely made up of privately, often family owned businesses so it is critical to have strong leadership from within these businesses to in turn support business and the state’s economy to grow,” she says.

Regardless of the outcome of the awards night, Joyce is confident about her place in the state’s food industry, and the prosperity of the sector as a whole.

“This can be an unpopular opinion, but I think the food industry is without a doubt the sexiest industry in SA,” she says.

“Food is one of the most fast-paced, forward thinking industries … a lot of people talk about defence and how innovative that is, but food is 10 times more innovative from where I sit.

“There are so many jobs for a wide range of people. There is room for those who like science, technology, hands-on production roles, and we need people who can work with computers and design programs to make our businesses more efficient.

“We want to make sure we keep attracting creative and committed young people. If you lack that commitment and passion, this isn’t the industry for you because you’re feeding people, you’re giving people what they put into their bodies, which is a huge responsibility.

“I’m very passionate about this subject in case you can’t tell!”

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