One of the most evident themes in hospitality today is the growing interest in the provenance of our food – where it comes from and how far it has travelled to reach us.
We may not live ‘on the land’ but, as Australians, we still feel connected to it. Given the sense of solidarity with our farmers, especially in times of hardship, it’s surprising that Australia doesn’t celebrate ‘Thanksgiving’.
The Northern Rivers’ Harvest Festival (along with the Scenic Rim’s Eat Local Week) is our closest equivalent, celebrating the Gold Coast’s main food source areas. Both festivals play a major role in connecting people with where their food comes from and the people who produce it.
Now in its fourth year, the Harvest Festival, held over twelve days from April to May, gives locals a chance to explore and savour the foods grown in our region, with opportunities to visit farms and distilleries, meet artisan producers and celebrate local cuisine.
By invitation, we took the opportunity to take the Farm & Foodies Bus Tour which visited six local producers in the Northern Rivers area.
Zentveld’s Coffee Plantation & Roastery, 193 Broken Head Rd., Newrybar Ph: 02 6687 2045 Open for tours, shop and coffee Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.
It’s fitting that we begin our tour at one of the most established producers in the area: Zentveld’s Coffee.
Originally setting up their 50 acres as an avocado plantation in 1980, June and John Zentveld soon found that the rock underlay below their rich volcanic soil drowned the roots of their trees so, on the advice of agronomist David Peasley, they pulled out the avocadoes and became the first commercial coffee plantation in the area.
Zentveld’s first crop was harvested in 1987, commercially produced just two years later, making them the first roaster who focussed exclusively on Australian coffee.
The area is perfect for coffee, with its warm summer and cool winters building up rich bold flavours through slow maturation of the beans, now roasted by June’s daughter-in-law Rebecca, who has won 23 medals in the Sydney Royal Fine Food & Wine Show.
The Zentveld family hold a deep sense of connection to the land, June telling us that “We may own the land, but really it’s in our care.” She expresses concern at the loss of some of the best food-producing land to housing.
As ‘custodians’ of the land, they have established ten acres as a wildlife refuge along the creek, with specific plantings to encourage a range of species. They also have beehives, and have planted 1250 cabinet timbers on the property as both an environmental and financial investment.
Rainforest Foods, Ph: 02 66808199
The Alstonville Plateau, where Rainforest Foods is situated, was the original home of The Big Scrub, homeland to an abundance of native species. Then came white settlement, and from the time of the first farms in 1862, the native forest was cleared using bullocks, fire and axes. According to government policy, if farmers didn’t clear their land, they lost it. Within 100 years of the first farms almost all native forest had been cleared. Only now is there a resurgence in interest in native foods, driven by our interest in provenance and nutrition.
Rainforest Foods, owned by Anthony Hotson and his partner Julie, is a 138-acre property not normally open to the public. In a rare glimpse of their diverse produce (including macadamia, lemon myrtle, anise myrtle, cinnamon myrtle, finger lime, Citrus Australis, Davidson plum, Illawarra plum and small leaf tamarind), Anthony tells us about the history of the region, the species grown on the property, the products they make from native foods and the local Northern Rivers farmers markets and IGA stores where they can be purchased.
Esperenza Farm, 424 Corndale Rd., Corndale Ph: 02 6628 4116
In several countries of the world including Australia, there is a return to free-range black pigs, such as the large Black pigs and Berkshire pigs bred at Esperenza Farm, for their health and taste advantages.
Jerrod and Susana Henderson chose the breeds both for their tender juicy meat and to maintain a breed rare in Australia. They raise the pigs sustainably and free-range on pasture using organic principles without any hormone-induced growth before they are processed locally.
“Small producers can’t just do bacon,” Susana Henderson says, referring to the diversification of product necessary for a small producer to survive.
“We have a family relationship with our customers, educating them about different cuts and swapping recipes,” she says, adding that pork contains one of the best fat types for health.
The couple have chosen to work with local family-owned butchery Hutley Bros., Lismore, to produce their range of fresh pork, jamon serrano ham, bacon, pancetta, pork cheeks and sausages such as chorizo. You can buy Esperenza Farm’s products in packs from the farm, or at local farmers’ markets.
Table Under a Tree, 251 Rosebank Rd., Rosebank Ph: 0451 626 906
In near perfect weather, we gather for a rural setting lunch featuring local produce assembled and presented by Table Under a Tree.
“We wanted to support local farmers, connecting the people who make food with the people who eat it. We’re based on a ‘farmer to diner’ concept, promoting local food from small scale artisan producers and running food tours,” says Georgina Inwood, who launched the company late in 2018 with her partner.
“The business is based on three principles: provenance – as a beneficial support for local artisan produce, a positive experience allowing visitors to experience local food, and convenience with ‘ready to cook’ meal pods supplied to accommodation.”
Dining from one of those pods as a picnic lunch, we see products already encountered that morning as well as many other products from the area including dips from Baraka Gourmet Foods, a selection of cheeses from Cheeses Loves You, fish rillettes from The Bay Smokehouse and bespoke ice cream from Teven Valley Farm. Our lunch is accompanied by Symphony Hill wine from the Granite Belt and local Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.
Boorabee Dorper Lamb, Ph: 0457 444 718
Boorabee, owned by Marina and Warren Wiggins, takes the cuteness award for the tour, both for their gorgeous black-faced Dorper lambs and the Maremma sheepdogs that protect them.
We meet Tino, the family pet Dorper lamb, whose breed shed their wool naturally and produce 60% more meat than other sheep varieties. Dorper lamb is naturally marbled, which makes it the ‘wagyu’ of lamb.
Warren tells us about their organic hormone-free farming practises, including feeding fermented seaweed to the sheep for its health benefits and as a natural fertiliser for the pastures.
Not far away are two Maremma, Italian sheepdogs bred from wolves who are the guard dogs of the flock, watching proceedings with a seemingly casual gaze.
You can enjoy Boorabee Dorper lamb at Byron at Byron and Harvest, Newrybar, or purchase it at local markets.
Brooklet Springs Farm, 864 Fernleigh Rd, Brooklet Ph: 0400 119 312
Our final stop is Brooklet Springs Farm, owned by Georgina and Morgan Goddard.
The farm produces pasture-raised organic chicken from day old chicks, graduating from a feeder shed to covered enclosures to protect from predators. The large enclosures are on rails, moving across the pastures daily so that the chickens can always graze on fresh grass.
Promoting free-range and recycling practices, Brooklet Springs Farm also uses waste macadamia product from Cape Byron Distillery as supplementary feed to their grass-fed pigs. No wonder they sleep so well!
You’ll find Brooklet Springs meat used in some of our favourite restaurants, including The North Room, Mermaid Beach. The farm also has Australia-wide delivery from their online store, or you can buy their products at the Bangalow or Byron Farmers’ markets or at The Farm, Byron Bay.
If you wish to learn more about the produce in this article there are several ways you can do this:
- Do Harvest Festival’s Self-Drive Harvest trail on 4 – 5 May 2019
- Buy some of their products at Northern Rivers Farmers’ markets.
- Enjoy local produce at select restaurants such as Harvest, Newrybar.
- Plan to attend Harvest Festival next year.
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast attended the tour as a guest of Northern Rivers Food.