KANGAROO Island Fresh Garlic has had a pretty rough start in its first few years in business, including the loss of two of its founders, getting scorched in 2019-20 summer bushfires and then facing the COVID-19 pandemic.
But owner Shane Leahy says they have seen "unprecedented growth" these past few years and big expansion plans are under way at the Stokes Bay business.
A massive new packing shed is in the process of being built, while sights are set on growing production.
The business has gone from "fledgling" just prior to the fires, to producing up to 50 tonnes of garlic this year, distributed across Australia.
Mr Leahy said the idea to grow commercial garlic on the Island initially came up at an on-farm barbecue 10 years ago.
Neighbour Sam Hollitt was discussing his backyard garlic growing success with brother Lachie and the "three amigos" thought why not "give it a crack".
Mr Leahy said the circumstances put the idea on hold for awhile, but the need to honour the brothers' dream was too strong and in 2015, KI Fresh Garlic was established.
"The first few years were not that successful," he said.
"But then we began to refine our techniques and machinery. We had a good 18 months there that momentum was really starting to build, and then the fires hit."
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On January 3, 2020, bushfires roared through the 250-acre Stokes Bay property, while Mr Leahy was out fighting fires on the other side of the Island.
"We snuck back to my home about midnight, the trees were still glowing red, I didn't hold out much hope of there being anything left," he said.
"I could see my house had gone, but when we came up the driveway, my older dog Socks came bouncing out of the trees, while my other dog Lucy was hiding in her kennel with her puppies - I don't know how they survived."
But the biggest "miracle" was the one shed that survived the fire was holding all of that year's freshly-harvested garlic, along with his processing room and freezer.
"The shed had a 10-acre plot behind it that had just been freshly harvested," he said.
"We presume that bare dirt took the direct heat out of the oncoming fire, and the dogs were thankfully in that same trajectory behind the shed."
After realising he had a business to go home to, he collected his dogs and went straight back to fighting the fires.
He fought the fires until early February.
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In the end, Mr Leahy lost his house, sheds, irrigation systems, rams, fences and paddock feed.
"But it was such a relief to know I still had the business; a miracle really," he said.
He was also fortunate to make contact with a Sydney-based builder that was able to rebuild him a house seven weeks after the fires.
Australian Army reservists on the Island also helped process the garlic that survived the fire, which now was in strong demand.
"I had only launched my online shop just before the fires," he said.
"But then we had all this media exposure and sales just went through the roof.
"The support from the Australian public after those fires, even two years down the track, has been unbelievable."
Mr Leahy has had celebrity chefs, including Adam Liaw and Jock Zonfrillo, come to his property and use his products, while restaurants as far as Bondi, Sydney, order in his fresh garlic.
He also sells into independent supermarkets, food retailers and gourmet basket businesses, in addition to direct to consumer sales.
"More and more people are wanting to buy directly from our farm," he said.
We essentially need to triple the size of our production areas so we can keep up with demand.- SHANE LEAHY
KI Fresh Garlic sells fresh garlic, as well as garlic powder, garlic granules and garlic salt.
Mr Leahy has gone from planting half an acre in that first year to producing 20 tonnes on 5ha last year, while there are plans to put in 10ha this year to produce 50t.
"We essentially need to triple the size of our production areas so we can keep up with demand," he said.
"I'd be able to sell 1000t quite easily if I had it.
"If all goes well, we're going to sow even more garlic next season and introduce different varieties into the mix.
"There is a good market out there for people wanting Australian garlic, and wanting it the way I grow it.
"Customers also like the story of where it comes from - Kangaroo Island's pristine environment.
Their big new packing shed is expected to be finished by March, while this year's crop will be planted in April.
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