AGRI-TOURS have become an increasingly popular way to grow consumers' awareness of where their food comes from and how it's grown.
The Southern Forests Food Council Inc, which represents the produce, producers and agri-food offerings of the Southern Forests region, was one of the first organisations in Western Australia to connect people with the State's premium growers and producers in this format.
Based in the South West and covering the major towns of Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe, Walpole, Bridgetown, Greenbushes and Nannup, The Southern Forests Food Council was founded in 2010 by a group of local producers to represent their interests and foster the region's status as one of Australia's key food bowls and culinary tourism regions.
In 2012 the group received a $5 million investment under the State government's Royalties for Regions program, but is now mainly financed by its membership based model and various other activities the organisation undertakes to help generate revenue.
"We were very fortunate to receive Royalties for Regions funding in our first nine years of operations, but that funding concluded last year, so we are now essentially standing on our own two feet," said Laura Bolitho, Southern Forests Food Council general manager.
"We have about 130 members across the region and the Shire of Manjimup has also been a great supporter of us right from the start, helping us to become established and continuing to financially support and advocate for us."
Working with Tourism WA, Southern Forests Food Council created its first bespoke agri-tours in 2017.
Over six months, the organisations trialled their food and farm experiences in various formats.
All-inclusive packages, the tour groups would travel throughout the South West region on a bus, visiting selected premium producers in the region over a period of three or four days.
However, due to the booking numbers being quite low, once the six month trial period was up the Southern Forests Food Council changed the format of its agri-tours to include customised group experiences.
"Unfortunately it didn't quite pan out at the time, as being a brand new product people weren't quite aware of the tours, but those that did come absolutely loved it," Ms Bolitho said.
"Instead we started approaching special interest groups such as Perth cooking schools and walking and photography groups - basically any groups that might be interested and would be able to fill a bus.
"That's more of the approach we've been taking over the past few years, and while we of course took a hit with COVID, we've still been able to create some great tours and experiences in our region.
"We do get enquiries also - we recently hosted a group of navy chefs on a tour which was really fun, and those types of groups come to us mainly through word of mouth."
Home to more than 50 different types of fruits and vegetables, truffles, nuts, wine, gourmet products, beef, sheep and dairy farms, the Southern Forests Food Council tour groups are given the opportunity to learn about life on the land from the State's farmers, tour packhouses and processing facilities as well as dine on locally prepared meals showcasing the regions fresh produce.
Upcoming tours are listed on the Southern Forests Food Council website, with many of them aligned with popular events in the region including the Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival, Truffle Kerfuffle and Pinot Picnic.
"We find the growers that we work with are fortunate people who get to do what they love as a job, and that passion and enthusiasm flows over as they share it with our groups who are engaged and interested," Ms Bolitho said.
"It works beautifully when you get a group of people down on a farm here to see the things that we take for granted."
Customised itineraries can also be provided for groups of 10-20 people.
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