Celebrating women in food: Stephanie Corrigan

“I grew up on the farm. As a kid I followed my uncle and my grandfather around trying to learn the business. When I was on school holidays, I’d be working in the produce pack houses. I absolutely loved everything about it.”

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by getting to know some of the hard-working women that are helping us provide vital food relief to Victorians in need, just like Stephanie Corrigan, a sixth generation farmer at her family’s business, Corrigans Produce Farms.

Stephanie wears many hats in the family business, describing her role as varied, hands-on and exciting. She explains there is no such thing as a typical week and on any given day she could be in the field monitoring crops, overseeing logistics or taking care of sales and marketing.

Located in Clyde Victoria, the family farm has been growing vegetables like celery, lettuce, silverbeet, kale and onion for almost seven generations.

“I work alongside with my mother, my uncle, another uncle that works out in the fields and on the tractor, my sister, my cousins. Everyone from our family pretty much ends up on the farm in one way or another. I’m actually sixth generation and we have the seventh generation on the way. They’re running around in their training gumboots, which is great to see.”

Stephanie says understanding every aspect of how the farm operates is important to her.

“My mother was one of the first women to work on the farm. She has always encouraged me to get involved in the family business. Most of what I know I learnt from my mother and my uncle.”

“It’s hard to describe each of our roles as we all do a little bit of everything. From managing plantations to answering the phone in reception, we all pitch in to get the job done.”

She also says family ties extend beyond the Corrigans.

“A lot of our employees are also related. We have a lot of employees that are coming up to their tenth or fifteenth anniversary here on the farm. Some of them have sisters or husbands working here.”

When asked what she loves most about working on the farm, Stephanie replies, “continuing my family’s legacy.”

“Going on and off the farm throughout my career, I’ve developed an appreciation for the the farming world. It’s a diverse and interesting industry and more people should be onboard.”

While she enjoys her career in horticulture, she suggests farming does have its challenges.

“Weather is one of the biggest struggles we have as farmers. The fact that our product is grown outside means that sometimes, our vegetables are affected by heavy rain, hail or dry conditions. This has a huge impact on the look, shape and size of our vegetables and sometimes they don’t make it to supermarket shelves.”

“We have to try and add value to these products or find ways to re-purpose them. We send a lot of unwanted produce to food processors and local cow farmers, we sell produce all shapes and sizes at the wholesale market and we also donate left over vegetables to charities like Foodbank,” she continued.

Stephanie says putting food waste back into the soil is key to the farm’s sustainability.

“Soil nutrition is very important. We use a lot of vegetable waste in our crop rotations. It provides vegetables with the nutrients they need to grow and it reduces the chances of disease from forming. We don’t have to use many chemicals. We just let nature take its course.”

Corrigans Produce Farms are Australia’s biggest producer of kale and supply 25 per cent of Australia’s leeks. There’s no signs of the family slowing down, having recently acquired a new farm in Devon Meadows to move further into exports.

We asked Stephanie for tips on how we consumers, can help our farmers through tough times. She replied,

“We take a lot of pride and care in our plants. We nurse them from a young seedling, to a trans-plant, through to a mature product. Sometimes the mature product may not look perfect, but they’re still perfectly edible with all of the love and care that has gone into growing them.”

Corrigans Produce Farms regularly donate vegetables to Foodbank Victoria. These vegetables are distributed to our charity partners and used in our Farms to Families Market which in recent weeks, has been bringing free fresh produce to Victorian communities recovering from bushfires in East Gippsland.

Click here to read more inspiring stories from some of the women helping us to provide vital food relief and support to Victorians in crisis.