Rosebud Farm – The early years: fruit and vegetables

In the 1970s, Rosebud Farm was run by nine young men (six Australians and three Americans) as an organic fruit and vegetable farm. Rich Trapnell, founder of Rosebud Farm Nursery, was one of the original nine. His sons - Nate and Digby - took over operations at the nursery, when their father passed away in 2011.

The concept behind Rosebud Farm was to create a self-sustaining property which produced its own supply of organic fruits and vegetables. In the beginning, there was no mains power supply or telephones on the property and all nine men lived in the farm's original timber homestead which had been built in 1926. The main crops grown at this time included but were not limited to avocados, paw paws, citrus crops (including oranges and lemons), bananas and macadamia nuts.

Self-sufficiency was important to Rosebud Farm and surplus fruit and vegetables were sold at what has now become the famous Kuranda Markets.

In the first decade of operation, Rosebud Farm's population swelled to 25 people living in nine separate houses on the property; its production also diversified to introduce a range of exotic fruit trees sourced from around the world.

Rosebud Farm – Introduces the exotic fruits of the world

The motivation behind the introduction of new and exotic fruit trees was to enrich the biodiversity of Tropical North Queensland's plant species.

Old Potting Photo

From 1978 to 1984, Rich Trapnell, accompanied by other Rosebud Farm representatives, made over five trips to Central and South America, which yielded between 60,000 and 100,000 exotic fruit seeds. The fruit seeds were sourced from the local markets in the regional areas of these countries, and collection and preparation for transport was an interesting process in its own right.

Rich Trapnell and his Rosebud Farm colleagues would travel throughout the countryside and stay at hotels which were conveniently close to any large marketplaces. During the day they would peruse the markets for any new and interesting fruits, on finding one, they would buy quantities of same from the local residents before handing them back to the children for consumption [some of the fruits were so exotic that even Rich didn't know how to eat them!].

Young Richard Trappnel

Once the seeds had been extracted from the fruit, they would be scraped clean, dusted with fungicide to inhibit mould and then packed into boxes for transport back to Rosebud Farm. Here the seeds would be germinated and propagated in the farm's patchwork of ever-expanding orchards, bush and shade houses.

At this time, Rosebud Farm was home to over one thousand fruit trees, including 120 varieties of exotic fruits. The more commercially popular varieties of the introduced exotics included Black Sapote, Jaboticaba, Abiu, Star Apples, South American Sapote, Mammea Americana, Mammey Sapote and White Sapote.

Fruits weren't the only species of interest during these early international forays; Rich Trapnell also noticed some of the many exotic palms which flourished in these other tropical climates. Seeds for these species also found their way back to Rosebud Farm and were planted alongside some of the property's established palms, which included the Alexander, Queen, Royal and Macarthur.

Due to the lack of telephone, much of Rosebud Farm's marketing in the early years was word of mouth. It didn't take long for the news to spread and by the early 1980's, Rosebud Farm was supplying exotic fruit seeds and seedlings to public and private nurseries and orchards around the country.

At the same time, the Rare Fruit Council of Australia was establishing itself in Tropical North Queensland. This council focused on promoting the production of 'mainstream' tropical fruits, including mangos, paw paws, avocados etc and established legislated guidelines on the sale and supply of tropical fruits. Within only a few years of this Council being introduced, the tropical fruit industry became commercialized and operated under strict guidelines.

By 1986, Rosebud Farm boasted six acres of exotic South American fruits trees and had four large shade houses. However, ironically, the very exotic nature of many of the farm's fruits made competition difficult and so change came again to Rosebud Farm and the future looked green.

Rosebud Farm – Enters the palm seed market

In the 1980's development in Tropical North Queensland, particularly in Cairns and Port Douglas, was booming. Tourism properties and attractions were being established at a rapid rate and there was an unprecedented demand for a high quality supply of native and exotic palm species, including the 'newly' discovered Foxtail Palm (Wodyetia Bifurcata).

Rosebud Farm's operators quickly assessed the demand for palms amongst home owners and landscapers and began germinating the seeds on their property, as well as importing rare palm seeds from around the world. Utilising their experience from previous forays to collect the exotic fruit seeds, Rosebud Farm quickly secured an exclusive supply line of rare palm seeds from South America, Asia and Madagascar.

By the early 1990's Rosebud Farm's primary business activity was as a palm seed merchant; 85% of their stock comprised of rare and exotic palm species and 15% was mainstream / commercial varieties.

However, an Australia-wide Pilot Strike in 1991 changed the business focus again; many businesses and developers were affected by the Pilot Strike and the demand for rare and exotic palms decreased. The resilient Rosebud Farm modified its product mix to suit market demands and eventually the property's seeds were 85% commercial / mainstream seeds and 15% rare and exotic.

Around this time Rosebud Farm installed a phone and commenced active marketing and advertising initiatives. Price lists were prepared and circulated for the first time in Rosebud Farm's history. In the mid 1990's Rosebud Farm built more shade houses and igloos, extending their infrastructure to allow them to meet increasing market demand.

Today, Rosebud Farm's business activities occupy approximately five acres of the 160 acre property. Although its primary business activities are to be seed importers and suppliers of exotic and commercial species; secondary activities include the production and supply of an extensive and diverse array of seedlings and landscape plants. Rosebud Farm is a wholesale nursery for other wholesale nurseries; they are not retail.

Current business activities are explained in more detail in the About Us section of the website.

Property History : The land that became Rosebud Farm

Rosebud Farm is located on a 160 acre property, approximately five minutes drive west of Kuranda 'The Village in the Rainforest' on the Cairns Highlands. Altitude is approximately 1,200 feet.

This property straddles the divide between the tropical mountain ranges of the coast and the savannah lands of Queensland's western plains. The property's original vegetation was a combination of both native tropical rainforest and sclerophyll eucalyptus woodlands.

The Crothers family was the first to purchase this 160 acre parcel of land in the late 1880's; at this time it was still considered 'virgin' land. In the 1890's the Crothers' family commenced their hand-clearing of approximately 40 acres of the property, which was used to start a coffee plantation. Coffee was a popular crop with the farmers of the area at this time.

The Crothers family successfully harvested coffee for a few years before a freak frost in the early 1900's decimated the crops. Following the frosts, the family used the same 40 acres of land to plant potatoes; the property's remaining 120 acres was left untouched.

Circa 1926 Elsie Crothers, daughter of the original owners John and Sarah, married Frank Moffat and built a house on the property. That house still stands today and is now the home of the Trapnell family, owners and operators of Rosebud Farm Nursery.

At this time, much of the Cairns Highlands was being timbered, not only to clear the land for agricultural practices but also to supply timber to the rapidly expanding coastal township of Cairns. Many of the surrounding rainforest species were highly prized for their strength and durability, including the Kauri Pine and Red Cedar.

Subsequently, Frank and Elsie Moffat (nee Crothers) preceded to timber the entire 160 acre property over the next 30 years; [it is assumed] their house was constructed from timbers felled on the property. Given the era, a number of methods were employed in the felling process, ranging from manual labour with cross-cut saws to more modern chainsaws and equipment.

In the 1960's the property was purchased by the Austin family who operated the land as a hobby farm. It is not known how much of the property was used for this purpose, but horses and cattle were grazed on the farm for approximately 10 years before it was sold to its current owners in 1971.

Since the 1970's, Rosebud Farm has limited its nursery operations to the original 40 acres of land that was used for the Crothers' coffee and potato farming. The remaining 120 acres has been left to re-vegetate naturally.

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