By Steph Allen.
When you think of the Sunshine Coast, sandy beaches, vibrant rainforests and a rich and abundant variety of fresh, local produce spring to mind.
Fortunate enough to be an area that year-round receives ample warm, sunny weather and many periods of heavy rainfall, the region boasts many markets and interactive farms where visitors can sample and collect fresh fruit and vegetables, straight from the farm to the kitchen.
A tourist hotspot and a regular place of employment for backpackers is Strawberry Fields in Palmview. The strawberry farm has been run by the Carmichael Family since 1980. It is open to the public year-round with the picking season running from June to November.
The farm, nestled in the hinterland, has 40 hectares of strawberry crops, a playground for children and a café with drinks, meals and strawberry-based treats.
Coming out of retirement after 10 years with her husband Maurie Carmichael, Yvonne Carmichael says that the idea to open their farm to tourists came from opening their farm to an ‘Out and About’ tour. This led to opening the farm to retirement home bus groups and very soon they had 35 buses visiting a year.
Now the winter months see the farm swarmed by more than a thousand tourists.
“Our first planting was 900 plants and in those years, 5000 was a commercial crop,” Mrs Carmichael said. Today, they have 500,000 plants.
The Carmichaels purchase ‘cut-off-plants’ with no leaves from Stanthorpe and Victoria as they are easier to maintain.
“With the Queensland ones, because they have leaves, you have to be watering them nearly all day for nearly 10 days … and then later you have to go in and cut off … the old leaves,” Mrs Carmichael says.
Around the first week of March, they begin month-long planting, and in June they employ about 28 packers in the sheds and use about 55 trolleys in the fields.
“We find we’re happy enough having pick-your-own tourism and then the rest of the produce goes to Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane … we ship out by the pallet,” Mrs Carmichael says.
The plants are pollenated by rows of busy bee hives that the family keeps on the farm.
“The more bees you have the better. The man who has them takes them away in the off season but then he brings them back for our season.”
Each plant can expect to produce three to four punnets a season.
Strawberry Fields is open to tours, schools and families from June to November. $10 buys an industry tour that includes a behind-the-scenes look at the maintenance, growing and the harvesting process, a preparation video, a homemade strawberry ice-cream and the opportunity to pick a punnet of your own.
The farm opens on June 2 to the public and runs seven days from 9am to 5pm.
Sunshine Coast produce
The Produce Wholesaler is a locally run wholesale distributor of fresh fruit and vegetables to the public. They provide customers with weekly harvest reports and keep them informed on any cost variations due to weather. They offer next-day delivery, seven days a week and orders are placed via their website, fax, phone or email.
Kawana Farmers’ Market is run every Saturday at Kawana State Primary School from 7am to midday. The market offers a variety of fresh organic produce stalls, freshly squeezed lime drinks, nuts and seeds, herbs, sauces, marinades and homemade jams.
Eumundi Markets are held Wednesdays from 8am to 1.30pm and Saturdays from 7am to 2pm in Memorial Drive, Eumundi. The markets, in a town famous for its natural and eclectic array of spiritual gift shops and handmade products, showcases the community’s collection of farmed goods. There are many produce stalls to choose from including Banana Man Gary, Engles’ Fruit and Vegies and Pablo’s Fruit and Vegies.
Yandina Markets are held Saturdays from 6am to 1pm and are said to be the authentic country market of the Coast. With a down-to-earth, straight-from-the-farm atmosphere, the market provides farmers with a direct connection to the community.
Noosa Farmers Markets are run every Sunday from 7am to midday at the Noosa AFL grounds in Noosaville. Another great example of helping out local farmers, there are many stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables to sample according to the season.
This winter, help out your local producers by exploring just some of these farms and markets, and all the fresh, organic produce they have to offer.