Commuters drawn to rustic farmstall

Commuters drawn to rustic farmstall

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South African born James Maasdorp has set up Midway Farmstall on his property west of Pinjarra to value-add their grass-fed lamb and beef. Coffee, Pinjarra Bakery meat pies and local produce are also on sale.

South African born James Maasdorp has set up Midway Farmstall on his property west of Pinjarra to value-add their grass-fed lamb and beef. Coffee, Pinjarra Bakery meat pies and local produce are also on sale.

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A constant stream of traffic on the Forrest Highway rushes past Midway Farmstall just 200 metres away from its front gate.

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A CONSTANT stream of traffic on the Forrest Highway rushes past Midway Farmstall just 200 metres away from its front gate.

On a hot day the big shady Illawarra flame trees in the car park are a good enough reason to stop and those who do are rewarded with excellent coffee, artisan fare, famous Pinjarra Bakery pies and the business's mainstay, grassfed Midway Dorper lamb.

For South African born James Maasdorp it was common to see rural farm shops alongside the roads in the Karoo region where he grew up on his parents Donald and Liz's large scale angora property.

When they arrived in Western Australia 12 years ago they had just bought a cattle station in the eastern Gascoyne then in 2011, an 80-hectare property complete with an old dairy, cattle yards and two hay sheds on the corner of the highway and Paull Road, west of Pinjarra.

There was also a substantial homestead and cottage but essentially it was a blank canvas needing some maintenance and a future.

Foremost in their minds was the location's suitability for a farm produce shop based on the South African model.

What they didn't expect was the bureaucracy that stood in their way but that was something they would find out further into the future.

There was an immediate plan to develop their idea of a 'pad stal' or farm stall and to lease out the rest of the farm for a couple of years for grazing.

It took another six frustrating years (and a six-figure amount of money) for the final approval to be signed off in January 2019 and trading commenced last Easter.

A stop at Midway Farmstall is a delight for children who can wander around to meet some of the farm animals

A stop at Midway Farmstall is a delight for children who can wander around to meet some of the farm animals

It seemed every step was breaking new ground for their local Murray Shire council as they applied to rezone a corner of the farm from rural to commercial.

"We struggled to come up with a concept to fit local government and Main Roads Department (MRD) planning," Mr Maasdorp said.

"It was frustrating that other roadside businesses in other shires were already doing what we wanted to do but we couldn't do the same in our shire.

"It was a new situation for the council and because it was so near the highway it was a special area that had to meet the MRD's very stringent road safety requirements."

What, at first, seemed like an impossible situation became workable with the council helping to navigate through the regulatory processes with support going as far as sending a delegate to accompany the family to the second of two State Administrative Tribunal hearings.

The gruelling and protracted negotiations have ended but the trading conditions imposed have restricted many of their bigger plans for the time being at least.

Look for Midway Farmstall on the corner of Paull Road when travelling on the Forrest Highway.

Look for Midway Farmstall on the corner of Paull Road when travelling on the Forrest Highway.

The business is operating with a staff of three but ideas such as using some of the other farm buildings and holding Saturday markets where other local growers could come and sell their freshly harvested fare are on hold.

Mr Maasdorp is hopeful their original ambition to become a market place to showcase and benefit the local area will carefully continue to evolve.

Today, one of the old haysheds has been converted into a stylishly rustic shop that could be a blueprint for any enterprising farmer on any busy highway wanting to value add their farm produce and promote what their region has to offer.

The freezers are well stocked with their home-grown lamb and beef and sales have been pleasing, but one quirky trading condition is that the farmstall's retail space has been capped at 47 square metres in size and 5.5 square metres may constitute other local goods.

Mr Maasdorp said the farm shop potential was limitless and it was an awesome place from a tourism perspective with the capacity to establish itself as a gateway to the South West as well as offering a sales outlet for other local growers.

Already they are winning approval from a huge number of customers who prefer to stop at Midway than travel a further kilometre south to a big highway service station.

Business has grown steadily with weekly commuters to Bunbury now making it a regular coffee stop and hordes of holiday makers looking to break up their road trip and keen to buy some of WA's best and most ethically produced food and preserves.

"We are lucky WA has educated consumers who are mindful of smaller businesses and they don't mind paying a bit extra to buy something that is locally produced," Mr Maasdorp said.

He knew if he was to sell only lamb, he would struggle to get people to stop but teaming up with other local businesses they can sell a wide range of different produce.

From the outset the priority has been to stock local products - and he has found some exceptional lines such as Gran & Pop's jams and relishes made in Mandurah and, of course, Pinjarra Pies - before seeking other WA suppliers.

Midway Farmstall is a child and pet friendly location that offers a relaxing farm stop on the Forrest Highway.

Midway Farmstall is a child and pet friendly location that offers a relaxing farm stop on the Forrest Highway.

He has astutely assembled a group of up-market suppliers like Margaret River Roasters for coffee beans, ethically produced Cowaramup Free to Forage eggs, Kwongan Honey made by a small but dedicated co-operative headed by friend, farmer and apiarist Steve Ball near the Fitzgerald National Park and Crunch Preserves, Simmo's Ice Cream, from Dunsborough, Savo's goat's milk and seaweed soap and Vasse Valley Hemp food lines.

Midway prides itself on being child friendly and the same goes for man's best friend with locally made dog treats on sale and a cool water bowl by the front door.

During the wait for approval the Maasdorp family built up a 260-head flock of Dorper ewes based on Kaya bloodlines which are now the basis for the grassfed lamb sold through the shop.

It is promoted as high quality, sustainably and humanely raised on natural pastures and it has proven popular, not only with customers but also with Mr Maasdorp because there is not one cut of meat that isn't in demand.

From shanks to loin chops and neck chops to roasting legs it all moves from the freezers quickly at a consistent rate and customers can buy individual cuts or a full carcase.

They have the flexibility to send off up to 70 lambs a month or just a handful to keep the freezers topped up.

They also sell their own beef finished on the property but from Mr Maasdorp's perspective turnover is much more difficult to manage because demand for prime cuts meant they were left with less popular cuts.

The solution is to value-add cheaper or less popular meat cuts by preparing ready-to-eat meals.

Mr Maasdorp would love also to make their own biltong from traditional South African recipes or have the ability to slow cook meat for beef/lamb and gravy rolls or even regularly put on a good South African braai (barbecue).

Frozen grassfed lamb and beef has been a success for James Maasdorp, from Midway Farmstall.

Frozen grassfed lamb and beef has been a success for James Maasdorp, from Midway Farmstall.

In the nine months they have been trading his belief they can build the meat side of the business has been reinforced and they recognise they now need to seek approval for a commercial kitchen facility.

While Ripe was visiting Midway Farmstall in mid-January Mr Maasdorp announced settlement had gone through for a newly-purchased adjoining property complete with 41 mated Murray Grey cows and enough area to finish a proportion of the station-bred cattle on grass during the winter and spring.

"It will give us some economy of scale with the farming side of the business but in this area you must be able to add value to what you produce because landholdings are not big enough to farm traditionally," he said.

"We know the farm stall is a great way of adding value."

Mr Maasdorp is hopeful their original ambition to become a market place to showcase and benefit local producers will come to fruition on the back of their success to date.

Given the hurdles they over overcome so far the future is looking bright.

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