Strawberry-Fields

Farm tours, wineries + bees: Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

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We may be more connected than ever before, busier than we’ve ever known, and plugged in to technology for a scary amount of time each day, but when it comes to the food we put in our mouths, thankfully, we’re curious and curiouser.

While restaurants and chefs are at the frontline, selling the message of seasonal, local produce – and farmers markets pop up in more and more towns faster than you can say “gluten intolerance” – on the Sunshine Coast there’s an entire food bowl awaiting your exploration, stretching from the hinterland to the coast.

Welcome to the land of farm tours, wineries, roadside honesty boxes, beekeepers and farmers markets. Here’s how to meet the passionate local producers and eat local on the Sunshine Coast.

Pick your own strawberries at Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Strawberry Fields | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Despite what the kids might think, strawberries don’t come from a plastic punnet at your local Woolies. The simple art of twisting and plucking a red, ripe strawberry straight from the vine at Strawberry Fields is what has everyone flocking to the Palmview farm – to experience pure farm-to-table eating.

The family-run business, which has been operational for 35 years, has grown from grazing land to having 70 acres of strawberry fields as demand has increased.

Strawberry Fields | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Strawberry Fields | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

With 85% of Queensland’s strawberries hailing from the Sunshine Coast, the mild winter temperatures mean they can supply to the southern states, while during the summer they have another farm in Stanthorpe to keep up with demand.

Farm manager Brendon Hoyle says the pick-your-own (PYO) experience has really grown in the past three years as we become more interested and passionate about where our food comes from.

“In the peak time, 50-60% of the farm is pick-your-own,” he says. “We’ll get over 500 people a day coming through… they’ll pick their strawberries, buy some chocolate sauce, stay for a coffee and grab one of our strawberry ice-creams.

“It’s just such a great experience, you can’t beat the taste of freshly-picked strawberries.”

Strawberry Fields | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

As tempting as it might be to pop them straight into your mouth as you go, there’s only one rule here: pick, then pay (the price is according to weight), THEN you can devour your haul.

The pick-your-own season at Strawberry Fields runs from June to November and you can also PYO at other Sunshine Coast farms Cooloola Berries in Gympie and McMartins Farm in Bli Bli.

Join a farm tour at Maleny Dairies

Maleny Dairies | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Maleny Dairies | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Supporting local farmers has been the turnaround for an entire industry in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny.

Fed up with the deregulation of the dairy industry and the paltry sums being paid to farmers, the Hopper family had had enough. With dairies farms closing down all around them, it wasn’t just jobs that were being sucked dry, but lives.

In 2000, third-generation farmer Ross Hopper and his wife Sally from Maleny Dairies had a new factory built so they could buy in milk from local farmers to supplement the milk from brother Keith’s beautiful guernsey cows, and pay them a better rate. They then started running tours around 10 years ago.

Maleny Dairies | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Now, every day (except Sundays and public holidays) at 10:30am and 2:30pm you can join a walking tour to learn more about this local dairy farm, feed the baby animals and taste test their milks – including the pasterised-only Farmers Choice – and yoghurts.

“We’re now bottling 60,000 litres of milk every second day,” our tour guide Tiff tells us as we peer into the factory where milk from the nine local farms that supply to the dairy arrives each day. “That’s up from 40,000 litres just a few months ago.”

Maleny Dairies | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Maleny Dairies | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

We watch a video that tells the whole Maleny Dairies story – from when their grandfather purchased the property in 1948 to today – and then head outside to get hands on and milk a sweet guernsey named Millie, feed Teddy the three-week-old calf, collect eggs from the chicken hut (which is more like a country-style Palazzo Versace for chickens) and watch as the pigs screech for their daily splash of Maleny Dairies milk.

Then, we walk through the swing over dairy where the cows come to be milked at 5am and 3pm each day.

The tour runs for around 1.5 hours and costs $11 per person. Pre-bookings are advised and if you want to watch the cows being milked, join the afternoon tour.

Word of advice: This property is stunning. So BYO picnic or BBQ ingredients and stay to enjoy the gorgeous views (and snap a few more photos of those pretty cows), or grab a coffee and snack from the onsite kiosk.

Taste test your way through Maleny Cheese

Maleny Cheese | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

The vibe is a bit more DIY at Maleny Cheese but a stop here means you can taste-teste your way through their line-up of flavoured cheddars, fetta, brie, and delicious buffalo milk cheeses.

You’ll find them all lined up on the counter ready to try and, once you’ve narrowed down your choices, you can either buy a few to take away (they also have convenient picnic packs) or stay to enjoy morning tea or lunch from the cafe, which overlooks the cheesery.

The $10 cheese platter is a great place to start but if you’re going for the title of dairy king or queen of the world, we’d put our money on the deep-fried camembert.

Using milk from local dairy farms, the Greek-style yoghurts are also worth sampling after you’ve devoured a cheese board, especially with flavours like ginger yoghurt and chocolate yoghurt on offer.

Wine tasting at Flame Hill Vineyard

Flame Hill Vineyard | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Flame Hill Vineyard | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

By now you’re likely ready for something that would go quite nicely with your cheese purchases. Make your way to the highest point in Montville, on the Blackall Range, for wine tasting at Flame Hill Vineyard.

The vineyard produces 100% estate wines from the vines on this property and a second property on the Granite Belt, all hand-harvested. They offer a tight and surprisingly high-quality selection of drops from crisp pinot gris to the deep Montville shiraz, and a Kondalilla sparkling white.

People underestimate the quality of the local product,” owner Tony Thompson says. “There’s some really talented winemakers here, really talented viticulturists.”

Flame Hill Vineyard | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Flame Hill Vineyard | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

But this property has more than just wine to offer, in fact, it’s a mini food bowl within itself, put to excellent use by chef, Adam Lugg.

“Our catch-cry really is we know where our food and wine comes from… even at brunch, it’s our own eggs, a lot of the game is ours as well as the beef,” Tony says. “I think the general public are looking for that.”

Start with a wine tasting at the cellar door when you arrive so you can direct your decision on the menu if you’re staying for lunch (be sure to book ahead), grab a charcuterie and cheese platter to enjoy on the terrace, or book in for their Sunday brunch.

There’s also some pretty damn cute accommodation available on the property should you wish to just grab a bottle and stay the night. And if you happen to be heading to the coast in February, grab tickets to the annual Stomp grape-crushing festival.

Beekeeping 101 + factory tour at The Ginger Factory

The Ginger Factory | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

You’ll have a degree in beekeeping after the passionate Super Bee tour at The Ginger Factory in Yandina.

Bee guru, Blake, fills brains with nifty facts – like there are 35,000 different flavours of honey in the world and that bees pollinate 60-70% of the world’s food – that will have you a full-blown honey advocate before you leave.

The Ginger Factory | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

You’ll learn how the hierarchy in the hive goes down (think The Hunger Games as the potential queens fight to the death for the privilege of laying up to 2000 eggs per day for their short life), what each bee’s role pertains, and see these workaholics hard at it through the demonstration behind a handy mesh screen and enclosed in glass.

“They’ve been working for millions of years, they make a perfect product, and they don’t mess up, ever,” Blake tells us.

We head into the store for a honey tasting to pick up on the nuances created by different flora surrounding where the hives are placed, then it’s time to join Marli for a spin through the ginger factory itself.

The Ginger Factory | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

Ginger Factory | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

The story goes that before a group of five Sunshine Coast farmers decided to start a co-op in the late 1940s, all of Australia’s ginger was imported from China.

The factory opened in 1980, and since then has been steadily increasing its production and supply of ginger confectionery, jams and sauces, as well as supplying the raw product to other companies, ever since, with all ginger sourced from farms are within a 70km radius.

Starbucks use it in their Christmas cakes around the world, as do Darryl Lea for their chocolates.

The Ginger Factory | Meet the local producers of the Sunshine Coast

We taste test the zingy ginger marmalade onion jam with cream cheese, a meatball doused in sweet ginger sauce, and finish with a cheesecake-concoction of sweet ginger nut biscuit topped with sour cream, cream cheese and ginger, lemon and lime marmalade.

The Super Bee and Factory Tours run 4-6 times daily and cost $15 each for adults, $13 for seniors, $11 for children or $57 for a family.

Early each year, the Ginger Factory comes alive for the Ginger Flower and Food Festival, which celebrates its 21st birthday in 2017.

5 more awesome locals to check out:

  • Get the down-low on Australia’s most famous nut, the macadamia nut, and peer into the factory at Nutworks in Yandina (across the road from The Ginger Factory).
  • Join a tour to meet the quirky farmers behind Q Camel milk and Glasshouse Snails with Live It Tours. Book in for their Camels and Canapes tour, which will add some extra hump to your usual cheese and pannacotta.
  • Pop in to visit the Johnson family at Obi Obi Essentials to buy some green and olive leaf teas and olive oil, and give their alpacas a pat (call ahead to arrange your visit).
  • Join a Montville Coffee ‘Bush to Cup Sensory Analysis’ class and slurp your way through 10 of their single origins in a cupping session (on the fourth Thursday of every month by appointment).
  • Visit Noosa Farmers Market on a Sunday morning (at The Noosa Australian Football Club on Weyba Road) to sample some of the best local produce the coast has to offer, with everything from smoked salmon to organic fruit and veggies, and marmalades to buffalo haloumi.

 What’s your favourite local produce from the Sunshine Coast?