A plum job: Meet the brothers preserving their family’s fruit orchard legacy
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
Two brothers have landed the plum job of running the fruit orchard planted by their pioneering great-uncle – extending a family tradition stretching back 40 years.
The Plumbe and Maufe orchard, near Burnham Market, has more than 2,000 plum trees of more than 45 different varieties, prompting the claim that it is "probably the most varied dedicated plum orchard in the country".
The trees were planted as a diversification project by farmer and decorated war veteran Garry Maufe in 1978, and the business has been run by his aptly-named daughter Nina Plumbe for the last 27 years.
But after deciding to call it a day, she said she is grateful to pass her late father's legacy on to the next generation of her family.
Bruin and Max Maufe are taking over the tenancy on the Holkham estate to run the orchard planted by their late great uncle.
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Both are in a "transition period" to move away from jobs in London - Bruin in the non-profit sector, and Max as a head hunter in the tech industry - by working part-time in the growing family business which also includes the farm run by their father Teddy, also a Holkham tenant, and the Malt Coast brewery.
It will be a steep learning curve, as they swap their city skills for tending trees and managing the delicate balancing act of getting the fruit to ripeness at the right time and harvested in the right quantities to satisfy demand - as all plums are hand-picked on the day of sale from the stall on site.
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But Bruin, 35, said it could provide an important added income stream for the family, reflecting Mr Maufe's original vision.
"It is amazing to think that Garry did this to diversify and many years later we are still trying to diversify from farming," he said.
"Our father has always encouraged us to diversify. He has a tenancy on the Holkham estate and we have a brewery and this is just the same as anything else - you can have a bad year in farming or brewing but maybe a good year in plums, so it is about trying to spread our risk.
"We do want to take over the farm, but tenant farming alone won't support three families, so we have to look at different things.
"People will have said Garry was crazy back then, but actually he was very forward-thinking. I don't think anyone thought the orchard was going to work to be honest, but here it is.
"He was a very popular figure within the family and a very kind man, and he was particularly close to our father. I think it helps that we have a lot of respect for his legacy and we will think of him when we are running the orchard he planted."
Max, 33, said the pair had a very small window of opportunity when the tenancy became available.
"We had to act quickly, it was now or never," he said. "It is not totally unconnected to the rest of the business, as we are selling our beer from the brewery around here, and a plum beer could be a possibility in the future.
"It is a big learning curve, but we have Nina here to advise us and that is a big factor, that we have got someone who knows the orchard so well."
Mrs Plumbe, 69, said: "It is really nice to be keeping it in the family and I think it is lovely that younger people are taking over with new ideas.
"We are very lucky to be in a tourist area - people actually plan their holidays around the harvest dates for the varieties they want to pick. We have educated a lot of people about plums, and I think that's lovely."
As well as popular plums such as Victoria, the 15-acre orchard has at least three varieties believed to be unique to the site, having been planted as trial crops for farm researchers in the 1970s.
The plums ripen over a two-month period from mid-July until mid-September. This year's season is almost over, after a very good harvest boosted by a lack of damaging frosts and good weather in the spring.
The fruit is made into products including jam, chutney and sweet plum vinegar, as well as being sold as fresh plums on the day of picking.