HOME GROWN: Woombah Coffee Joy Phelps (left) and Joan Dibden with one of their 1100 arabica coffee bean trees on their Woombah property.
HOME GROWN: Woombah Coffee Joy Phelps (left) and Joan Dibden with one of their 1100 arabica coffee bean trees on their Woombah property. Kate Matthews

Growing a coffee business

THE 'dream that turned into a nightmare' effectively started one hot Saturday afternoon in March, 25 years ago.

With their neighbour leaning over the fence, watching on and advising them 'nothing will grow here', Joy Phelps and Joan Dibden began digging and planting their coffee bean seedlings on a small acreage in Woombah.

Fast forward to today and the pair have well and truly proved their neighbour wrong.

While they admit they've had their fair share of challenges, Joy and Joan now have a well established plantation of about 1100 Arabica trees in six varieties, with the end result - Woombah Coffee - being shipped all over Australia.

But setting up the venture was hard work and the women, now in their 80s, did it all without any help.

They say the idea was their retirement plan.

Approaching the end of their careers as nurses, the women were looking for something to keep themselves active.

Joy wanted to run a coffee shop and Joan thought growing coffee might be a good idea.

"The whole idea was not just to whither away when we retired," said Joy.

So with bucket loads of enthusiasm and no experience, the ladies spent hundreds of hours researching and preparing the land before planting began in earnest in 1982.

"We had our first crop in 1985," recalls Joy, "it was only about 3kg."

"We started with a small hand-operated machine (pulper) which Joan converted to an electric operated one very soon after."

With expensive processing equipment being way out of their league, Joan developed modifications for many of the basic machines to make the job easier for the small boutique operation.

"Every step of the way was a learning curve," Joan said.

Indeed with the entire process being done on site; everything from planting, pruning, picking, slashing, dehusking, fermenting, roasting, grinding, packaging, marketing and shipping, the women don't appear have a lot of spare time for 'retirement'.



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