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Tourism taking the cake

In the pecan orchard are Eltham Valley Pantry first-year apprentice Brock Steele (left), manager and owner Julie Rhodes, head chef Ishmail Ishmail and second-year apprentice Nathaniel Griffiths.
In the pecan orchard are Eltham Valley Pantry first-year apprentice Brock Steele (left), manager and owner Julie Rhodes, head chef Ishmail Ishmail and second-year apprentice Nathaniel Griffiths. Jay Cronan

INSTEAD of heading to the beach for a holiday, take a holiday on a plate.

That is the message the Federal Government wants to promote.

It is called food tourism and it is all about attracting tourists to the farm gate.

Eltham Valley Pantry at Eltham is a Northern Rivers farm gate success story.

Visitors eat homemade pecan pie surrounded by 330 pecan trees and then, if they aren't too full, can take a tour of the farm.

“We add value to our farming operation. We crack our own pecans and the cafe is in the pecan orchard,” Eltham Valley Pantry owner Julie Rhodes said. “We always have a pecan dish on the menu.”

This might be roasted pecan salsa or pecan muesli, but eating food at its source is what the farm gate experience is all about.

Food tourism is proving popular. The only way to get into the Eltham Valley Pantry on Sundays is to book in advance.

“Create an experience you would be prepared to pay for,” Ms Rhodes said.

These farm gate experiences are exactly what the Government study is looking at.

Russell Mills, chief executive of Northern Rivers Tourism, said our region was perfectly positioned to make the most of food tourism.

“This is a fertile area with volcanic soil, indigenous food product (macadamias) and clean oceans. All this combined with the cafes and chefs make us a great food destination,” he said.

Recent Government studies have shown that food tourism can generate one-fifth of a farmer's income.

Mr Mills said that indirectly, food producers were contributors to tourism, and the quality of the food at supply level set the benchmark.

“Supplying good food at a good price is critical,” he said.

Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, said farmers were constantly looking for ways to diversify their business.

Food tourism is already a key industry in places like the Barossa Valley in South Australia, Gippsland in Victoria, and the Tamar Valley in Tasmania.

Northern Rivers Tourism is conducting a tourism symposium in Byron Bay on October 19 and 20 and there will be workshops and seminars on food tourism

The Government study is funded under Australia's Farming Future and is expected to be completed in 2010.


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