City consumers have a growing hunger for authentic food and farming experiences.
Farmers in the productive Scenic Rim, one-hour southwest of Brisbane, are seizing the opportunity to connect with their customers and turn them into ‘agvocates’.
Scenic Rim Eat Local Week, which runs from June 24 to July 2, offers visitors the chance to meet commercial farmers and take their own paddock to plate journey.
The event, now in its seventh year, is organised by the Scenic Rim Regional Council and Mayor Greg Christensen says more than 60 per cent of the event’s crowd hails from outside the region.
He says this is proof city-based consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and how it is grown.
“We’re two weeks out from the event and many of the farmers are reporting their events have already sold out,” says Cr Christensen.
“It’s incredible to think a tour of a carrot farm and factory and a dairy not only sell out, but start waiting lists!
“The Scenic Rim is the food bowl to Queensland, many parts of Australia and overseas markets.
“Eat Local Week started in 2011 as a way to showcase the breadth of produce that is grown an hour from Brisbane and to encourage consumers to source local food where they can.
“It started with 15 events and a crowd of 3000 and has grown to feature 90 individual events and a crowd expected to exceed 30,000.
“That is proof there is a real appetite in the city for people to have real food experiences.”
Research conducted by the council during Eat Local Week 2016 found 61 per cent of the 28,800-strong crowd visited from outside of the Scenic Rim.
Another 9.5 per cent came from interstate and 28 per cent were from within the region.
Richard Gorman, CEO Kalfresh Vegetables, says their annual Carrot Day has sold out, with more than 800 people booked to tour the carrot washing and packing factory and pick their own carrots on June 24.
Mr Gorman says the Carrot Day is now in its 5th year and continues to surprise everyone involved.
“We started it as a ‘let’s see if it works,’” he explains.
“We didn’t think there would be much interest in seeing a carrot farm. We were happy to welcome about 100 people in the first year.
“Now it’s grown to a size where we sell tickets online and have people booking months in advance. As farmers we love what we do and we are all thrilled that consumers want to know how we grow carrots and how we pick them, wash them and truck them to stores.
“People send us photographs of our carrots in shops, as well as the carrots they grow with the seed we give them on the day.
“Visitors are fascinated by the automation we use in the factory, by the equipment used and by the work we do in the paddock around soil health and sustainability.”
Greg Dennis of Scenic Rim 4Real Milk & Scenic Rim Robotic Dairy at Tamrookum outside Beaudesert holds an open day during Eat Local Week.
Last year’s crowd was estimated to exceed 10,000 people who travelled from the north side of Brisbane, Toowoomba and northern NSW.
Mr Dennis says about 70 per cent of the crowd was from outside the region.
“I think increasingly people are conscious of where their food comes from, especially mums and dads with kids. There’s a real desire to reconnect with the farmer. It’s pretty refreshing to have that. It’s a real warmth coming from the city back to the country.
“I really feel as though it’s a crucial part of our business. I feel very strongly about reconnecting people with farms, with their food and with the people who grow it.”
Sixth generation dairy farmer Dave Tommerup and his wife Kay also open their dairy farm to visitors during Eat Local Week, as part of the Lost World Farmgate Festival on June 24.
They also offer accommodation on farm and say agritourism has become a vital to their sustainability.
Their farm cottages are booked weeks ahead and guests travel from Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Brisbane, Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.
“We first started in agritourism as a way of saving our small family farm,” says Kay.
“There was no other way we could see we could keep farming. Through the money we’ve made in agritourism we’ve been able to increase our dairy herd by 30 per cent in the past six months. That’s from knowing we have the backing of another income stream behind us.
“People come to us because we are a genuine working farm and they want to have a reconnection with food. It’s one of two things – either they want their children to see where food actually comes from, or they’ve had a connection with a farm as kids and now that they are parents they want their kids to experience that too.”
Kay says welcoming visitors to their working farm is the best education and communication tool she has.
‘It’s the best way for us to get the message across that farmers are important and should be valued. They’re there with us experiencing life on the farm.”
Scenic Rim Eat Local Week runs from June 24 to July 2 and features more than 90 individual events, including cooking classes, farm tours, producer lunches and the Winter Harvest Festival on July 1.
Find out more www.eatlocalweek.com.au