Top produce grown in deep, rich soil on the side of an extinct volcano in Victoria's west. 

Rising from the green pastures between Warrnambool and Port Fairy is an extinct volcano called Tower Hill, or Koroitj to Gunditjmara people. On its eastern slopes, at a place called Illowa, farmer Ben Pohlner grows great produce to feed the local community in Victoria’s west. He also aims to make change for the better, one good deed at a time. “My motto is, ‘Do as much good in the community as possible and hope other people notice’,” he says with a laugh.  

Pohlner grows 35 different types of berries and vegetables, from strawberries and garlic to beetroot and corn. He always plants more vegetables than he can sell and gives the surplus to the food justice charity FoodShare. 

Pohlner and his wife, Sarah, founded the farm in 2018. Pohlner grew up in Hermannsburg in the MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory, where, as a young boy, he watered the desert earth and grew his own vegetables. Fast-forward decades later, and he and Sarah, a local Western Victorian girl, moved to the 12-hectare farm. Here, the volcanic soil is rich and fertile, 1.8 metres deep in places. Under the farm is an aquifer of crystal-clear water from which water is pumped to irrigate the farm. 

“Because we grow so many different species, we have our own microenvironment,” says Pohlner. “We don’t get the same pests that occur in monocultures.” He relies heavily on organic techniques, using conventional fertilisers when needed. He loves the region’s mild climate and cold winters. “The best time is winter,” he says. “The brassicas – cauliflower, cabbage, etcetera – will reach maturity and then just go into something similar to a hibernation, slowly developing flavour and sweetness. It extends my season.” 

Volcano Produce delivers around the west of the state, supplying 30 restaurants, three IGA supermarkets, and homes in towns such as Casterton, Coleraine, Portland, Cavendish, Dunkeld and Hamilton. 

Produce: Strawberries, cherry tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables