Marcus Brandsema

Marcus Brandsema with the fruit of his labor, hydroponically-grown tomatoes.

By Paul O'Rourke

Third generation Turners Beach farmer, Marcus Brandsema, says the family has “an obligation to give back” to Tasmanians in need through Loaves and Fishes.

“Helping people in need through Loaves and Fishes is a no-brainer,” Marcus said.

“We have an obligation to give back to others from what we have gained through our work.

“It’s an awesome privilege to be able to help support our community.”

Each week, Tasmanians reap the benefit of the Brandsema harvest with generous donations of tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant grown hydroponically in hothouses on the Turners Beach hinterland.

Perfection in eye of beholder

Loaves and Fishes get perfectly-eating seconds, most of which is destined to be dumped; produce that is spotted, scarred, too big, too small, or the wrong colour or shape.

Loaves and Fishes uses the donated fruit and vegetables in ready-to-eat meals, sauces and distributes fresh produce to partners state-wide.

Marcus, an electrician by trade, has a long and strong association with Loaves and Fishes through a friendship with CEO Andrew Hillier.

Marcus helped Loaves and Fishes move into its Don Road premises, assisting with electrical work for the Devonport warehouse coolrooms.

Passion for tomatoes

Marcus manages the business with brother Anthony, although their father, John, who is in his eighties, and with distinctive “TOMATO” numberplates on his car, is still involved, as is Marcus’ wife, Elly who manages the ordering, processing and packing.

The Brandsema family has farmed in Turners Beach since moving from Launceston in 1958. The family migrated to Australia in 1951 from the Netherlands where Wilco pursued a career in baking.

The move into agriculture came through an encounter with a former Dutch neighbour, Roelf Vos, who asked Wilco Brandsema to grow vegetables on a plot of land he owned in Launceston. Produce would be sold in a shop he was planning to open. The farm expanded as Roelf’s Launceston store became a northern supermarket chain.

The family moved to a bigger and more fertile site at Turners Beach, gradually specialising in hydroponically-grown tomatoes for Coles, Woolworths, the Hill Street IGA group, Young’s Vege Sheds, and other independents

“Fruit and vegetables are picked one day and are on the shelves the next,” Marcus said.

Suburbia has gradually encircled the prime land employing 30 people as locals and interstate visitors have followed the coastline in search of home sites with coastal views.

“Moving to hydroponically-grown fruit and vegetables also means we are a better neighbour because there’s no smell from organic fertilizers or dust from ploughing fields.”

Marcus Brandsema in packing shed

Punnets of snack tomatoes are graded, weighed and packed on-site.