Jon Glikson is on the road again. His cherries from Young are ripe, his smoked trout from the mountains and cheese from the Riverina are in demand and Jon, aka the ”Chef’s Gopher”, is in his element.
Reliant on word-of-mouth recommendations, he uses a bench seat in Belmore Park, Goulburn, as an office for networking with friends and clients. The park’s tables are his ”packing shed” for preparing fruit from Young and Batlow before fronting up to people across the tablelands and highlands, chatting and selling to them.
Jon lived in Goulburn for several years with his wife, Kimmy, from about 2002. They left for southern Queensland, a little closer to Vietnam from where Kimmy comes and where Jon had lived for several years. During that period he became fascinated with the enterprising street sellers.
“Each one of them had a different call, a different cry,” Jon said. “As I learned the language more and more, I could engage with them more and more. I knew if I had grown up in Vietnam I might have done that too, that is, go to the farms, get fruit and bring it back to the major centres and sell it to people. They seemed to be having a lot of fun.”
He tried street selling in Goulburn but found it impossible against the competition of Woolworths and Coles, and had more success on a quarter-acre block on the edge of town with poultry and vegies.
“We could feed the whole street at any time of the year and everyone knew it,” he said.
Jon also delivered regional produce to corner fruit shops in Goulburn, only to be dismayed in the long run to see them close one after another in the face of competition from supermarkets.
While in Goulburn, Jon, a long-time itinerant fruit picker, penned The Fruit Pickers, a collection of his experiences on commercial orchards, contributions from mates and his charcoal sketches. He drew on his extensive diary entries over years of travelling throughout eastern Australia and joining his fellow workers’ struggles with their demanding bosses while pruning, picking and weeding fruit and vegies.
In appreciation of Goulburn’s heritage buildings and proliferation of roses, he also self-published Castles and Roses, a photographic and colouring-in book featuring homes in Chantry, Grafton, Montague and Walker Streets, Lansdowne Park, The Towers and Goulburn North Railway Station, among numerous points of interest.
In 2007 he launched Chef’s Gopher using his knowledge of premium seasonal produce. His rivals in the travelling fruit and veg industry source all their produce from the Sydney markets and prosper. He goes directly to the growers.
“I try to get the produce (from the grower) to my clients’ kitchens and into their fridge,” he said. “The products I am carrying now are really five-star food entities. One of them is Snowy Mountains Trout Farm, a family enterprise near Tumut. They produce probably the freshest smoked trout in Australia.”
He said another supplier, Coolamon Cheese near Wagga Wagga, was making superb cheese.
“I just dropped off cheese and smoked trout to the people I get cherries off in Young. Even other country people are happy to get hold of it,” he said.
In autumn his focus turns to apples, pears, quinces and pomegranates from Batlow, where he first joined the fruit industry after finishing school.
“Apples have underpinned a lot of the trading that I do during the autumn months,” he said.
He delivers to Goulburn, Tarago, Braidwood, Sutton, Wamboin and Southern Highlands, and at village markets.
“When the media say things off the cuff without knowing what’s going on in the district, they cause a lot of trouble because there is a flow-on effect,” he said.
“People say, oh, the cherries are all split. Backpackers down in Victoria hear about it and decide not to come to Young, and then Young is short of workers.”
But those reports were inaccurate, according to Jon.
“Although we should have been picking cherries in November, we weren’t because the weather was too cold,” Jon said. “The fruit did not ripen, so it was hard and green on the trees. That saved it because if the fruit had ripened it would have split with the rain.”
Jon said dry, warmer weather in the past fortnight allowed the fruit to mature.
“The cherries are great this year,” he said, setting off with a load of fruit down to Braidwood.