Ros Vodusek is a fifth-generation farmer, chef, and creator of the family-run Rich Glen Olive Estate in Yarrawonga on the Murray River. Family, farming and a deep connection to the Murray environment are foundations of her success.
The origins of Rich Glen go back 30 years to when Ros's husband Daimien and father-in-law Franc planted 36,000 olive trees on the family farm. Ros moved to the farm when she and Daimien got married, after a whirl-wind romance. They soon realised the farm was struggling and Franc was contemplating pulling up the trees.
Ros wouldn't hear of it. A fifth-generation farmer herself, she wanted to bring up her new family on this stunning property. She quickly put her own creative ideas to work, to help rejuvenate the business.
A chef by trade, Ros started there. 'I thought – surely I can make a few things out of olive oil? So we started making dressings and hand creams, and things like that.' Ros sold her home-kitchen experiments from a small bungalow-style room on the property, initially through an honesty-box system. It was hard work but slowly, over four years, the business began to take off.
People would come to buy from the small shop, and ask to pat the lambs and take a walk through the olive grove. Then it became clear the farm was a perfect tourist destination.
'As soon as we put a coffee machine on the bench and a coffee sign up, everything started to go crazy,' Ros says. They moved out of the family home and turned it into the fantastic store it is today, packed with olive oils, olives, dressings, jams, chutneys and olive-oil-based skincare products.
‘Food was a natural thing for me. I grew up on a farm where Dad was always experimenting. I guess that creative side came out then.’
Ros is always keen to give something new a go. People want to buy local produce when they come to the area, and according to Ros, 'food is the new souvenir'.
The Murray River location is an integral part of life on the farm. 'We love living on the Murray because we use it every day,' Ros explains. 'The soil's so beautiful. You can grow anything.' The farm is watered from the Murray, so the river is a true 'lifeline', and the climate and rich soil are just perfect for olives.
It's also a place to enjoy family time and experience the outdoors in Yarrawonga's sun-filled climate. The family are down on the river nearly every day, fishing, canoeing or relaxing on a sun lounger, playing in the sand and building bonfires for family gatherings. 'There's so much to do. It's so picturesque.'
A typical day starts before dawn, on a walk with the family's pet dogs, through the bush, along the river, for about an hour. There's a stillness to this time that Ros loves. 'It's just so magical seeing the sun come up over the Murray River, when you're looking at all the big red gums on either side, and the sandy beaches. It's pretty spectacular.'
A love of the region and working the farm runs deep in the family. Ros's father-in-law, Franc, is an inspiration for her, a man she says is humble, respectful and full of integrity. 'He is handing down his knowledge, and our kids are experiencing that too, so we're lucky to have Franc in our lives. I love that there's four generations working together.'
'I'm really proud of being productive on the farm and showing our kids that they can do it too.'
Ros also takes inspiration from other producers around her in the Murray River community, forging connections that make the most of the plentiful local produce and natural Murray River setting. 'I really had a passion to get to know the farmers around us.
As the business became more successful, Ros and Daimien would be approached with ideas for collaboration, and they were keen to share and work together. 'Everyone's so good at collaborating and helping each other. None of us wants to see any waste.'
At Rich Glen they've pressed persimmons that would otherwise be wasted, using the vitamin-C-rich oil in beauty products, and have used peaches and other fruit in their creations. 'We're in the food bowl of the Murray River and there's so much beautiful produce.' They source as much as they can locally. 'People recognise the Murray River and the good produce around here.'
Ros is often inspired by the products she comes across in the region. Lately, she's turned local peaches into peach, ginger and gin jam with a hint of chilli – perfect with cheese.
‘I love to do products that no one else is doing. It’s always about experimenting and seeing what goes together.’
Experimentations and collaborations extend to branding and exciting creative projects, including with the Sebel on Lake Mulwala. Ros says the women who manage the luxury hotel are 'really passionate about what they can grab from the Murray River region. They asked us if we would create a signature range for them to use in their day spa and in their hotel accommodation.'
Rich Glen oil and olives are also used in the hotel restaurant's dishes.
Ultimately it's the simple things in life Ros appreciates every day – farming and local produce, spending time with family along the river and in the bush, canoeing on the water, absorbing the scent of the place and the spectacular colours at sunrise. 'The Murray River brings it all together.'
'It's just the best place in the world and we wouldn't want to be anywhere else.'