Three Generations of Farmers
The Covino family farming history is typical of the great post-World War II stories about hard-working immigrant entrepreneurs.
Grandfather George left Italy in 1949, leaving his wife and six children in their village of Benevento located in the Naples area. On arriving in Australia, George’s first priority was to earn enough money to support his family back in Italy and to bring them to Australia.
Having come from an Italian family farming background, George took up a ‘share farming’ opportunity growing brussel sprouts at Ferntree Gully which was, at that time, still a rural area just outside Melbourne. (Share farming is when someone grows produce on someone else’s farm and shares the profits with the farmer.) George made sufficient money to bring his family out in 1952 and also made enough to buy some land at Silvan in the Dandenong Hills.
The rich red soil was ideal for strawberry farming. These were the days when all the family worked physically hard building the farm. Ugo was the youngest of the six children. Tragedy struck when Ugo was 13 when his father, George, died. Ugo immediately left school to work full-time on the farming business along with his other siblings.
Over the years the children married into other farming families in the Dandenong Hills area and started their own families. Diversity out of farming began with one purchasing a petrol service station while others moved to Queensland setting up in the restaurant business.
During this four-decade period the Covino’s Silvan family farm was successful. Like most small business people, the family put the profits back into the business, buying more acreage. As Ugo’s brothers and sisters moved into other business activities, Ugo eventually found himself running the farm on his own. Ugo married Maria, a local Silvan girl in 1972 and together they worked on the farm. By the late 1970s the farm had 70 acres and Ugo had moved into carrots. Then he did something that shocked all the farmers in the Dandenong Hills. In 1979 Ugo purchased a mechanical carrot harvester.
For the cost of the harvester Ugo could have purchased another farm. Everyone said he was crazy. But Ugo’s farming entrepreneurship paid off. Soon they’d purchased another 90 acres in Kinglake followed by a further 100 acres—all dedicated to growing carrots. By this time Steven and Peter were teenagers and actively working with Ugo on their farms. Both Steven and Peter left school when they were 16 to work full-time with Ugo. But things were changing. The Dandenongs were developing into a rural ‘outer-semi-urban’ Melbourne. Water supply issues were emerging, along with reclassification of farming areas.
In 1993 the Covino family bought 540 acres at Longford. Important for the new farm was securing reliable and plentiful bore water. The Dandenong farms were sold to enable the family to concentrate on Longford. Following hydrological assessments which determined that there were no adverse environmental impacts from using the bore water, the family expanded the acreage at Longford and today the farm covers 3,500 acres.