Beaches, beautiful landscapes, friendly locals – it’s what the Sunshine Coast is all about. But take a step back in time and you’ll find it wasn’t the waves and sand that first drew European settlers here in the mid 19th century. Timber getters and cattlemen turned their attention to the region’s hinterland and exploited the fertile earth, before farmers moved in to grow crops such as pineapples and sugar cane.
Fast forward 150 years and we boast a vibrant agricultural industry, though many locals and tourists are unaware of it.
When Petra Hughes started her website Local Harvest – The Sunshine Coast Food Directory about 12 years ago, she knew a thing or two about the region’s growers and producers, but she was frustrated that others didn’t – “there was lots going on in the region but no one knew about it”.
While the thriving timber getting and sugar cane industries have been consigned to history, the region still produces a huge array of fruit and vegetables. Small-scale farms and niche growers dot the landscape, while our producers are creating innovative products many locals are just discovering.
“The Sunshine Coast has really evolved,” Ms Hughes says, adding that while we don’t have the broad-acre crops of other regions, our growers are experimenting with niche produce and new products. She is excited to see garlic is now being grown in the region while other growers are experimenting with heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables. “Heirloom vegies have had a revival. People are rediscovering flavours.” She says local chefs and the public are calling for more.
“The growers are experimenting. Sometimes the chefs will work closely with growers and ask them to grow a certain crop – there has been an overall push for people to have organic produce and they are steering away from GM stuff. They are moving back to the heirloom varieties because they are more nutritious.” She says while a lot of the broad-acre crops are disease resistant and easy to grow, heirloom varieties, which are trickier to produce, offer wonderful flavours.
It’s an exciting time for those involved in agribusiness and those watching on. “There is always something new,” Ms Hughes says. “Producers, chefs and growers are all looking to minimise waste and there has been a lot of collaboration.” To reduce waste a producer might look at how they can use their excess fruit and veg, and value add to their business. She cites the examples of mushroom grower Noosa Earth using spent coffee grounds, a commercial kitchen that is growing rosella and turning it into preserves, and a grower who is making bamboo preserves. “A lot of people are doing innovative things to get the most out of their crop.”
She adds, “People are always looking for ideas. A lot of producers are experimenting with their own produce.”
So, where can you discover for yourself what is going on? Farmers markets, such as Noosa and Kawana, are good places to start, says Ms Hughes. “Go to the Hinterland Harvest Market at Woombye. Road trip to Conondale for the Crystal Waters markets.
“Just ask questions too. There is a lot grown in the region. We buy things in supermarkets because it’s accessible but approach things from a seasonal perspective – fresh fruit and veg is nutrient dense.”
Get out there and chat with the producers at the farmers markets and look out for opportunities to visit farms – many producers have open days and offer tours where you can visit and ask questions.
“Make an effort to support local,” Ms Hughes says. “They are our hard workers in our community and they are passionate and they deserve to be supported.”
Come on a food tour with us
Flame Hill Vineyard
When its wine time head to Montville’s Flame Hill Vineyard. At the cellar door you can sample the various drops – including sauvignon blanc, fiano, verdelho, pinot gris, tempranillo, shiraz and merlot – before you buy. For a paddock-to-plate experience book in to the restaurant, or stay even longer – there is accommodation on the property. Image: Anastasia Kariofyllidis
At Conondale’s Baranbali Farm you can meet Murray grey cattle, Wessex saddleback pigs, sheep and poultry that graze happily on the 80 acres of organically certified land. This means the farm’s ethically produced meat comes from happy, well-cared-for animals. The farm is open on Friday afternoons or by appointment.
Maleny Dairies runs regular 90-minute tours for anyone wanting to learn about dairy farm life in a gorgeous part of the Coast. You’ll meet the cows and bottle feed the calves before taste-testing the products. Bring a picnic – as you’re welcome to stay after the tour and relax while watching the kids run around.
Hanging around Yandina? Head to Nutworks, which is just across the road from the Ginger Factory. Nutworks processes nuts and confectionary for its global market, but on a visit to the factory you can check out the processing, chocolate panning and roasting, and pick up some chocolate and nut products.
Bush to Cup
Free on a Thursday morning? Want to take your love of coffee to the next level? Then take part in the Bush to Cup experience at Montville Coffee. In this 45-minute class you’ll learn about all coffee, take part on a coffee-cupping ceremony and chat to a roasting and brewing specialist.
Want a dairy of a different kind? Then check out QCamel, which supplies camel milk products from its farm west of Caloundra. QCamel offers a farm gate experience where you can meet the camels, which all have their owner quirky personalities, and learn about the dairy, which has the beautiful Glass House Mountains as its backdrop.
Obi Obi Essentials
The Johnson family produces olive oil from their own olive trees under the name of Obi Obi Essentials. You can visit the family and the farm to stock up on olive oil and green tea and meet the farms’ alpacas, which keep the weeds down and produce wool, which you can also buy.
It’s almost strawberry picking season (the local season runs from about June to November) so head along to one of the Sunshine Coast’s strawberry farms to pick your own. Palmview’s Strawberry Fields and Bli Bli’s McMartin’s Farms will be open soon.
Keep an eye out for these local products
- Based in Kandanga, Ugly Duck Preserves uses Australian-grown seasonal produce to create its delicious preserves.
- Order your box of local organic produce from Good Harvest Organic Farm. The owners offer a subscription service where you can sign up for a weekly or fortnightly farm box – then they grow the produce, pick it, and deliver it to your door.
- For raw honey you can’t go past Beerwah’s Hum Honey. The farm’s bees free-range and are never touched by chemicals, pesticides or antibiotics.
- Landsborough-based Happy Snacks uses organic, Australian-grown beans and chick peas and then roasts and packs them, sending them on their way.
- Noosa Earth is an innovative urban farm that uses spent coffee grounds and straw to grow chemical-free oyster mushrooms in used shipping containers.
- Woombye’s Sunshine Coast Cider uses freshly pressed apple juice from the Granite Belt and ferments it to create a crisp cider.
- Less than 10 years old, COYO is a Yandina-based business that exports its beautiful coconut yoghurt and ice-cream products around the world.
How you can support farmers and producers
- When you shop at a local farmers market head towards the smaller stalls that sell just one, two or a handful of products – they are more likely to be smaller growers and producers who have a story to tell.
- Ask the chefs and staff at your favourite restaurants and cafes where they source their produce and how you can support local.
- Ask staff at your local wholefoods shop about local producers and choose these products over imported products.
- Visit Petra Hughes’ site Local Harvest (sunshinecoastregionalfood.com.au). It’s an incredibly rich source of information.
- Join a food tour with a local company such as Noosa Hinterland Tours, Mystic Mountain Gourmet Tours or Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours.