Region’s foods on the map

Sue and Tony Morgan among the organic garlics at their Bayles farm.

Cardinia’s boutique food and beverage producers and sellers have the opportunity to put the region on the map – literally – as a quality food producing region to rival Sunraysia, the Yarra Valley and even the Mornington Peninsula. The call has gone out for locally-based producers to get behind a new online directory to promote the region’s produce – and there are already a few runs on the board, as ANDREW CANTWELL finds out.

“There’s no reason why you wouldn’t give it a go.”

Cardinia’s rich farmlands generate almost a quarter of all produce pouring in to the city from Melbourne’s food bowl – the lands within 100km of Melbourne CBD.

Yet most Cardinia residents would never have set foot on a farm – barring what their new houses were built on.

It’s even more doubtful many could name a handful of the vast variety of goods produced.

And even fewer would know where they could get their hands on what’s produced locally.

The Cardinia Farm and Food Directory is setting out to change that.

Set to launch in spring, the map-based directory has sent out the call for farm-gate food producers, local food and beverage suppliers, shops that stock local produce, and even community gardens, to get themselves a free listing.

The directory’s backers – a handful of producers and interested locals – hope to reconnect consumers with local producers, while making the trip from ‘paddock to palate’ as short and delicious as possible.

And the bigger aim is to get Cardinia recognised in its own right as a quality, specialty food-producing region to rival the likes of Sunraysia, the Yarra Valley and even the Mornington Peninsula – the kind of region that attracts day-tripping tourists with educated and appreciative palates … and open wallets.

An associated aim is to encourage chefs locally and further afield to use local produce, and make contact with local growers to source quality foods they’d like to eat or include in seasonal menus.

Happily, a customer base with an appetite for the local fare has already been identified.

Cardinia Food Circles project officer Tanya Massy said the discovery of people who wanted to buy local foods had come out during the ‘table talks’ sessions held at the start of the project.

The table talks showed there were people with an appetite to buy local – they just didn’t know what was available nor where to buy from.

The discovery of this hidden market was encouraging, Tanya said, as food literacy research from Monash showed that some 80 per cent of people never buy local foods, fresh from the farm.

A map-based food directory then became a key activity of the food circles group, which had since been taken on by a volunteer group, led by farmers and producers.

Tanya said the directory had been ‘soft’ launched about three weeks ago and the call had gone out for enterprises to register in preparation for a formal launch in spring.

The launch event would feature and celebrate the work of local farmers, Tanya said.

Directory backers Tony and Sue Morgan, of Orchard End Farm Bayles, were early members of the of the Cardinia Food Movement which came out of the Cardinia Food Circles project, and were quick to see the benefits of the map-based farm and food directory.

The Morgans grow organic blueberries and garlic, and run beef on two properties totalling 125 acres.

Tony, who is also VFF Cardinia branch vice-president, was chipper about the directory’s potential for making Cardinia a food destination once the range and scale of local production and sales outlets was known.

Tony said the directory had promising benefits just from making the variety known.

“Not many people would know that 80 per cent of Australia’s asparagus is grown at Kooweerup,” he said.

“And 80 per cent of the people around Pakenham don’t know you can go down to a shed locally and buy it there.”

The Morgans’ goods are distributed to an organic greengrocer in Carlton and to general good stores in a number of locations locally, including the Nar Nar Goon General Store.

They also enjoyed on-farm sales, generally from word of mouth.

The organic produce has been a recent addition to the beef operation, going back a handful of years.

An initial planting of 400 blueberry bushes has grown to 1200, with initial harvests between 300kg and 500kg annually – and they’re still a few years away from mature production levels.

There are about 5000 garlic plants, yielding 300kg and expanding. This year will be the third garlic harvest, and the Morgans are hoping there will no repeat of last year’s sudden storm that wiped out the crop in a five-minute burst of hail.

The plants get applications of approved approved organic fertilisers and beds are mulched or matted and weeded by hand – so that what is produced tastes like what nature intended.

Tony is passionate about retaining the region’s high quality farmland, and doesn’t want to see more sold off to developers and “covered in rooves”.

He regards the rapid development as a two-edged sword, understanding that as farmers age they want to realise the value of their properties while knowing that once its sold for development it won’t be coming back into production.

The other edge of the sword was that any protections on farming land to prevent sale to developers could reduce the return to farmers when they sold their land. Any protections, he said, must value the land fairly so as not to disadvantage farmers who were moving off.

He also said the nature of farming in the peri-urban area had been evolving for some time, and that with the right food production farming could be viable on small acres.

Those enterprises may be small scale, he said, but they had high value.

There was already a wonderful variety of producers, from the nearby brewery at Lang Lang, a lemon orchard, smoked meats, as well as their own organic produce.

When listed in the directory, he indicated, the knowledge of that variety would go a long way to making Cardinia a quality food destination.

For apple grower Nick Russo, of Bellevue Orchards and Summer Snow Juice company, the directory represents added opportunity.

The orchard has well-established sales channels and the more recent juice side of the business sells into scores of outlets across the eastern seaboard of Australia.

He’s so keen, he has rolled up his shirt sleeves and helped establish the directory website.

“I’m very excited about what we’ve been able to do already,” Nick said.

He said Cardinia residents lacked an awareness of what the region actually produced. The region didn’t have a food culture or even the established food trails that surrounding rural shires enjoyed.

The mapping side of the directory would help change that, he indicated.

Once there was a critical mass of producers and outlets signed up, tourists could explore the map and plan days out – and potential purchases – while cafes and restaurants wishing to buy regular supplies could easily make contact.

“The grand vision is that one day someone who is starting a cafe can see what they can source locally – by checking on the website to see what’s there,” Nick said.

“There’s no reason why you wouldn’t give it a go.”

Directory backer Megan Clarke, of Maryknoll, is keen for word of the directory’s availability to spread.

“A lot of people want to buy local food and don’t know where to find it,” Megan said.

Megan has a masters degree in sustainability studies, with subjects covering food systems, and has been following the Cardinia Food Circles project from its early days.

She hopes the directory will be well used.

“It’s an amazing resource that connects consumers with farmers.”

In buying from the farmer, buyers could ask about how the food was grown, when it was picked, and even what chemicals were used.

Megan said the rapid growth of the area – while obviously putting pressure on productive farmlands – actually worked in the producers’ favour.

“All these people coming into the area – they all need food – healthy and delicious food,” she said.

There was nothing fresher than fresh food, fresh off the farm, and buying in season helped retain taste and nutrient levels.

She urged all local outlets – from farmgate sales, to cafes and wineries, and even community gardens – to consider signing on.

“We’re here and happy to have people sign up.”

For details and sign-up visit cardiniafarmandfood.org.au

Contact and social media links:

Website: www.cardiniafarmandfood.org.au

Instagram & Facebook: @cardiniafarmandfood

Email: hello@cardiniafarmandfood.org.au

Phone: (03) 9918 8525

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