By CAITLIN CROWLEY
HARVEST season is underway on the Granite Belt with the first “pick-your-own” event of the year on this weekend, at one of Applethorpe’s family-owned orchards.
Eastern Colour started offering people the chance to pick their own apples and strawberries at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, after seasonal labour all but disappeared overnight.
Third generation grower Nathan Baronio told the Caller, while access to workers had significantly improved, the “pick-your-own” weekends had become an important way to help close the gap between farmers and metropolitan consumers.
Baronio said he was initially “blown away” by the lack of knowledge people had about Queensland’s apple and strawberry seasons.
“I always believe you’re part of the problem, unless you’re part of the solution,” Baronio said.
“I think it’s important for people to understand where their fruit comes from and what’s involved in producing that fruit.
“The feedback is always really positive – people love to have these special experiences with their families.”
Southern Queensland Country Tourism has identified “immersive experiences” such as fruit picking, as a key pillar for the region’s tourism industry into the future.
“Whether that’s staying on the farm, picking on the farm, mustering on the farm – doing a tour, riding a horse – they’re fully immersive and they do multiple things,” CEO Peter Homan said.
“They immerse you in the experience, but also in the region. Our biggest issue is we don’t have enough of them.”
Homan said people had been looking for more “natured-based” tourism experiences, particularly since the pandemic.
“We just don’t have enough of them and people love them. It’s the memory people take away with them,” he said.
For those planning to get their hands dirty at Eastern Colour this weekend, Nathan Baronio said the quality of this year’s strawberry crop was excellent, with a focus on growing for taste rather than a longer shelf life.
“The size is a little smaller, but the flavour is fantastic. We had a very cool spring but the plants are very happy,” he said.
“The proof is in the flavour.”
It’s a similar story for apples, despite it being one of the latest seasons Baronio has ever seen.
“The fruit is sizing up really nicely – I always believe Stanthorpe has the best flavoured apples in Australia,” he said.
“The Pink Ladies are going to be a special crop – the trees have a bit of hard work ahead of them in this heatwave but there’s going to be a lot of Stanthorpe pink ladies coming out for sure.”
With the threat of summer storms and hail presenting huge risks to production and profits, Eastern Colour has been moving its strawberry crops undercover, with one of the largest protected cropping operations in Australia.
“I don’t think growing strawberries outdoors is going to continue much longer,” Baronio said.
“Once upon a time there was enough profit in farming you could weather a storm – these days wages, fuel, packaging – everything’s going up considerably.
“It just means there’s no room for error – you’re at the top of your game or you’re out of the game.”
To register for the pick your own weekend, head to the Eastern Colour website.