Martin Boetz disappears into a dense patch of broad bean plants, popping out occasionally to collect from the nearby rows of coriander and garlic in his flourishing veggie patch.
“This was the first property I came to,” he says, adding that he’d never actually visited the region prior. The former Longrain executive chef now lives full-time on his 28 acres in Sackville, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River just over an hour’s drive from Sydney. “I bought the land in late 2011 with the intention of living here, but I started thinking about other things I could do with it.”
Boetz’s Cooks Co-Op produce service is now up and running, supplying regionally grown goods and Boetz’s own fruit and veggies to some of Sydney’s best restaurants – think Pilu, 4Fourteen and Kitchen By Mike, to name a few. At any given time, there will be around 10 types of local produce to choose from, like the cabbage, silverbeet, beetroot, grapefruit and honey recently on offer.
Bringing local growers on board was key to Boetz’s business concept, especially considering the Hawkesbury’s history as a food growing region. “I’m trying to engage farmers around the area and offering their produce as well as selling my own,” he says, noting that the land he now uses to grow his produce was once a thriving market garden.
Boetz is keen on ensuring the quality and freshness of the produce he’s selling. “I’m able to offer freshly harvested ingredients delivered within 12–14 hours of being taken out of the ground…to see their faces when it’s delivered is pretty cool,” he says, showing off smartphone photos of barrels filled with baby beetroots and his cabbage supplier grinning alongside his latest harvest. “Saying to someone, this is your rocket that I’m picking now and you’ll be able to use it in your kitchen today – they’re the things that are really special.”
With his background as a top chef, Boetz knows how to select the kinds of produce sought-after by fine-dining kitchens. That might mean selling a whole fennel with its fronds still intact, a Kipfler potato too small for supermarket shelves (but just right for plating), or beetroot that has kept its leaves. “Normally the tops have been cut off. They’ve just been chucked out, even though you can eat them,” he says.
Part farm, part residence and soon-to-be multipurpose venue, Boetz has big plans for turning his property into a “soil to plate” hub. The sprawling plot includes two huge hilltop sheds – one set to be transformed into a commercial kitchen for team-building days, chefs’ training and food prep for on-site events – plus a charming cottage overlooking the river for weekend getaways for two.
Nestled at the base of that hill, Boetz’s 1930s-era home is in the midst of it all. “The beauty of The Cooks Co-Op is that I’ve got access to so much produce. I’m really into preserving, so if something isn’t sold I can turn it into something else,” he says, adding that any leftover produce will be composted. “It’s a closed cycle because it all stays here.”
Along the shelves and dining table in his kitchen, stacked jars of peak-season cumquats taken from his plot over the road have been sealed in sugar syrup with vanilla bean and bay leaves, ready to be served at a dining event on the property that weekend. “I really want to showcase what this area has to offer,” says Boetz.