While the Northern Rivers is well known for its exceptional restaurants that showcase our locally grown produce, agriculture and food production are also very important to the economy of the region and the industry is seeing a rise in agritourism. All sorts of tourism-related experiences are popping up that help connect agricultural products, people, and places with visitors on farms, such as farm visits and even farm tours. Increasingly, more distilleries and breweries are emerging, offering cellar-door experiences and master classes. There is also a keen interest in regenerative agriculture practices.
The host of quality local food and beverage producers servicing our restaurants has created what one new Byron restaurateur, MVP’s Mark Felippelli, called a ‘Byron ecosphere’ in last week’s Echo (p. 20). But the ‘ecosphere’ doesn’t just benefit the restaurants; as diners and visitors discover agricole rum at Husk Distillery, native foods at Karkalla restaurant or Harvest, or even Brookie’s Gin, they share these experiences with their friends, benefitting our local suppliers and hence our local economy. And what’s more, they want to meet the maker.
‘Food is a new souvenir,’ says Anne Briggs of member-based food group Northern Rivers Food (NRF). ‘The modern visitor, whether a confirmed foodie or not, is seeking a higher level of especially engaging experiences. They are interested in the provenance of their food, and love to actually meet the producers, the makers, and farmers, as this is a very authentic experience. They do share these experiences with their friends, because, to the visitor these meetings are very special. They tell stories of the farm they visited, which increases the reputation of food producers in the region.’
Because farms are rarely open to the public, NRF holds its only public-focused event at this time of year to make the connection between paddock and plate, called the Harvest Trail. ‘The region is beautiful in April/May,’ says Anne. ‘The climate is great, it’s long weekend time for people from north of the border to experience real food on real farms, and it’s a great time as this is when food is harvested, hence it’s the ‘harvest’ trail. Many Australian native foods, like finger limes and lemon aspen, are harvested around now, along with macadamias, pecan and citrus.
‘The events provide visitors and locals with the chance to do something they don’t normally do; to meet the maker,’ she says. ‘Along with food and beverage production, agriculture and increasingly agritourism are very important local industries.
‘The Harvest Trail is a self-drive experience, and it needs a bit of pre-planning to make up a bit of an itinerary, because some of the tours have already sold out; some are free, and some have a cost, there’s a real diversity. Because of COVID, some events have ticketing, even if they are free. It’s a lot of fun to plan it.
‘As a local it’s a great chance to visit some farms that are not normally open to the public, such as Forage in Myocum, cane farms in Tumbulgum and Mooball, Duck Creek Macadamias in Newrybar, native-food suppliers Wattle Tree Creek at Numulgi, or Barefoot Farm pecans at Eltham. You can also visit regenerative farms such as Zentveld’s Coffee – they don’t use sprays, they roast and they sell so it’s the whole experience. Brookfarm is also open to the public – Martin Brook is a passionate farmer who loves to discuss regenerative practices.
‘Rock Chic Eggs at Keith Hall in Ballina are putting on an afternoon of groovy tunes that will add to the experience of seeing their chickens free-ranging in the South Ballina sand dunes. For those who don’t drive, there are also a couple of good bus tours – Table Under a Tree’s Georgina will be providing her insights into seasonal produce (pickup/dropoff from Zentveld’s), and also local Indigenous legend Delta Kay from Playing with Fire will be hosting a tour through the Bangalow parklands along Byron Creek, showcasing plants used for medicine and jewellery and hopefully spotting some wildlife.’
Harvest Food Trail. Weekend of May 1–2. Over 20 suppliers and 26 events, including distilleries and restaurants.