Heath East is one of the most genuine down-to-earth producers in the Southern Forests. He’s got that charismatic nature that has you at ease in his presence and a zest for life that you just want to bottle up. He is a footballer, turned small business owner, turned farmer and soon to embark on a new venture in agri-tourism.
With dogs Nelly and Mouie in tow, Heath sets out for a day’s work on his mixed fruit and marron farm, JanaJak. Together with his dad Lennon, wife Jan, and young adult kids, they farm avocados, feijoas, marron and in the not-too-distant future, Australian Native Fingerlimes.
Heath’s property is a stone's throw from suburbia on the outskirts of east Manjimup. The 120-acre farm is divided between third generation farmers, Heath and his brother Todd East, who also a primary producer, growing truffles through the winter months. The Easts have had the property since the late 1960s where they have previously grown potatoes, cauliflowers and raised beef cattle.
Originally the property was a soldier settlement dairy farm that was issued to a returning veteran from WWII. Remnants of the old dairy shed are getting their second lease on life through Heath and Jan’s agri-tourism plans. They hope to be up and running later this year providing visitors with a full foodie experience - where guests can catch and pick their own produce, then prepare a delicious meal back at the recently renovated old dairy accommodation overlooking the farming landscapes. Heath may have a green thumb and be a farmer at heart, but he’s also really passionate about agritourism. He believes his greatest career achievement is just coming up!
Someone once said, whatever Heath touches turns to gold. Meaning what he is planting or investing in, it must be worth doing. The first avocados were planted on the property in 1998 with Heath taking over fully managing the production in 2019. Fast forward to today, the farm has 900 trees in the ground with two thirds currently producing and an average of 120 bins a year. Being a small-scale farm, they have the ability to pick, manage and prune each tree individually.
Feijoa season in the Southern Forests runs for approximately two months, from early April to late May. Feijoas flower in late November and are relatively pest free, needing no insecticides. Heath tells us they are easy to grow but require irrigation. Throughout harvest, the East family will simply walk up and down the orchard rows giving the trees a little shake and collecting any fruit that’s ripe enough to fall – this is called touch-picking. Over the coming years Heath and Jan will be building up their operations to not only do all the picking themselves but packing too - requiring investment in cool room, storage and packing facilities.
At the end of the day, Heath aims to grow quality produce whilst enjoying the farming lifestyle it brings. They’re not big growers and that’s the way they want to keep it. Heath intends for their production to remain manageable for the family. “We basically do everything ourselves,” commented Heath.
With a love for marron, Heath has always wanted to work with them. He’s looking to develop this side of the business by setting up onsite purging facilities and selling direct to consumers throughout the South West and Perth areas in the future. Marron thrive in pristine water conditions, which is why they excel in the Southern Forests rivers, dams and waterways. By a conservative count, Heath produces one tonne (or 4,000 – 5,000) marron a year, across six aerated dams on the property. It takes 2-2.5 years for marron to get to the sellable “restaurant” size of 200 – 250 grams per marron.
A few years back Heath was chatting with renowned local chef, Sophie Zalokar, about what produce lines are sought after by chefs and foodies. Coming to realise that finger limes - aka citrus caviar - goes well with marron, Heath and Jan planted Native Australian Finger Limes in 2021. The trees will take three years before they come into fruition and become the perfect garnish and compliment to the East’s marron production.
Heath loves what he does and doesn’t really see it as a job. There’s nothing else he would rather be doing and is very content being his own boss. “The more you put in, the more you get out. You’re on your own land and it’s a choice to work. It’s the best job in the world,” commented Heath. He also believes the Genuinely Southern Forests brand is reflective of its literal meaning - “Genuine products. Genuine people. Genuine area. God's country compared to anywhere else.”
The Southern Forests Food Council will share updates across our social media channels once Heath and Jan have their new ventures up and running. In the interim you can visit their roadside stall for fresh and seasonal avocados and feijoas – just past the golf course on Perup Road, Manjimup.