J. Kirkwood & Co. Pty Ltd Produce Merchants was established in 1921 by brothers James (Jim) and John (Jack) Kirkwood who opened premises at 23 Church Street Maitland. The brothers were formerly livestock agents with OK Young Product Merchants of High Street Maitland. The Kirkwood family had been involved in agriculture on district farmland for many years.
At that time, there were four produce merchants in Maitland: O.K. Young, Prydes, Kirkwood &Co, and W. C. Cain, all within half-a-mile of each other between the station and Church Street. Proximity to Maitland Station allowed for prompt consignment of produce as well as receival of goods.
In the early days, the main customers were council members, bakers and the local coal mines. These had the largest horse stables to feed, needing chaff, bran and oats in bulk sacks.
Kirkwood Produce Singleton was established in an old four mill in John Street Singleton in 1954. In 1965, a new purpose built building was erected at 1John Street Singleton.
In 1972 J. Kirkwood & Co. purchased the property and business of produce merchants Butler and Pryke at 20-22 Church Street Maitland, and the business relocated across the road to the new site.
Following a fire in 1977, the Maitland Store was replaced by a double brick building included a seed room, hay shed, storage and a hessian bag cleaning facility.
In 1899, R. Hall & Son’s former produce stores at Rutherford and Broadmeadow were purchased and the Rutherford store became the home of Kirkwood Produce (formerly J. Kirkwood & Co.). A large expansion to the new site included a drive through service.
The Broadmeadow Store, continued to operate until 1994.
In March 2000, Norm Kirkwood retired from Kirkwoods after 45 years of service. Craig Kirkwood became Manager of the Maitland Store.
In 2021, 100 years onwards Kirkwood Produce is the only one of the original four Maitland produce merchants to remain. It has stores in Maitland and Singleton. There are 12 employees at Maitland. Four delivery trucks cover the Hunter Valley and, as far as Mt White, the Central Coast, Newcastle, Gresford, Dungog, Branxton, Cessnock, as well as locally.
Focus in products has changed-especially with large number of district hobby farms and the demise of dairying due to regulation.
Maitland manager, Craig Kirkwood said:
Our business and our industry has gone through change and continues to change, the deregulation of the dairy industry, droughts, floods, the GFC and today its Covid, but through all this I’m confident in saying we have stayed at the forefront.
I remember when my father Norm retired in 2000 after devoting 45 plus years to the industry, I asked what he would miss the most, his reply was simple…. the people.
We are so fortunate to be involved in such an amazing industry, with such resilient people in it.