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Agritourism excellence: Glenbernie Orchard’s journey since the APAL Awards for Excellence 2023

Industry Best Practice

Photo credit: Sasha Faint Photography

Jo-Anne Fahey of Darkes Cider at Glenbernie Orchard, recipient of APAL’s Agritourism Award in the Awards for Excellence 2023, has shared her insights into the organisation’s developments since receiving the accolade.

The family business has been working on ambitious plans, including the construction of a new cidery and the enhancement of on-site facilities to offer year-round engagement with their community. Embracing social media and innovative technologies such as drones, Jo discusses the orchard’s commitment to storytelling and audience connection, alongside collaborations with industry leaders and tourism organisations.

1. Since winning the Agritourism Award last year, how has your agritourism venture evolved or expanded? Can you share any new programs or initiatives that you’ve implemented to further promote apples and pears, and how has the response been from your audience?

Since winning the Agritourism award last year, we have been working on plans to build a new cidery and improve our on-site facilities so that we are able to provide visitors with increased opportunities for engaging with us all year round. Currently our visitors tend to visit mostly across summer and autumn, so we are looking at ways to increase the availability of experiences at other times of the year. Anecdotally, locals are excited by the idea of us being open with additional activities for more of the year as it gives them a place to take visiting family and relatives.

We believe we have a massive role to play in education from the farm gate. Farmers can influence community attitudes and dispel myths. One of my favourite myths to bust is the notion that supermarkets freeze apples! Farmers are usually a trusted group in society, so people will listen to information given directly from a bona fide farmer. The challenge is to have good clear, consistent messages that solve consumer problems. We are finding it more challenging to get engagement on social media platforms as the competition for time in people’s lives get ever more crowded. We are now trialling Google ads but the jury is still out for us on whether this is good return on investment. Direct conversion to sales of fruit is what we look for. It’s very difficult to measure the individual impact of some of our initiatives. The economy has definitely cooled with rises in the cost of living and this is impacting on all of us as growers. We are looking constantly for opportunities to increase per head consumption in our existing customer base. Offering specials is one way to sell more but we believe in adding value rather than devaluing our crop. This is a constant and shifting playing field.

2. You’ve previously discussed your success in utilising social media to engage with a wide audience. Have you incorporated any new innovative approaches or technologies into your fruit-picking tours, cider-making experiences, or on-farm events? How are these innovations enhancing the overall visitor experience and contributing to the promotion of the fruit industry?

We are always looking for new ways to engage with our audience and have been completing photography training so we have the ability to take better photo and video footage ourselves. We love our professional photographers but unfortunately they can’t be here 24/7 to capture that ‘one off’ moment that we sometimes get. The more in house expertise we have the better. In terms of photos, we will never replace the essential professional shots but we can augment the collection with our extra work.

We have bought a small drone to learn how to fly and manoeuvre in the sky and navigate obstacles in preparation for introducing drones in the future of our orchard management. Two of our staff have completed nationally accredited training to fly drones. We are hoping that there will be a spin off for us having a drone to take photos and video of the farm from a different aerial view. We are always looking for better ways to tell our story and sell our messages. Reels on social media have become increasingly important and learning the vagaries of platforms like Tik Tok have definitely been a challenge.

Glenn and Jo-Anne Fahey. Photo credit: Sasha Faint Photography

3. Your orchard has gained significant attention through various media platforms. Have you explored any collaborations or partnerships with other businesses or organisations in the agricultural or tourism sectors? Additionally, could you provide insights into any upcoming projects or plans that you are excited about for the future of your agritourism venture? 

We are working with Tourism Australia and Destination New South Wales. These organisations provide an enormous support and have a good depth of understanding about Agri Tourism. We are attending as many workshops as we can to learn more about how we can improve our basic business and build on skills in tourism, we are very appreciative of the opportunity to present our tours this year at the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE). This is an event held this year in Melbourne during May. Tour operators from around the world attend this event to look for new tourism product opportunities that they can include in their itineraries. We will have scheduled one on one meetings with up to 94 companies across 4 days in the hope that we may be able to secure more visitation to our on farm experiences. ATE is run by Tourism Australia. Destination New South Wales coordinates and supports NSW operators attending the event.

During the past 12 months we have also supported industry familiarisation tours run by Destination NSW. This is where International Tour Operators visit our farm and complete an experience to get first hand view of activities they can include within tour itineraries to Australia. We have 9 delegates attending from India in late March 2024, for example.

In late 2023, we hosted a group of farmers from South Korea to look at apple growing in Australia.

4. Any other thoughts or updates to share with everyone?

In our philanthropic activities we support many great local organisations but we are very proud of our support of the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service. It’s a very small program and in its infancy but we think there’s a lot of scope to add more elements that will benefit individuals and families in a positive way and have a knock on effect. Our weekly fresh fruit drop off is used in education programs run by staff at their Wollongong facilities. Participants in programs learn about different varieties, how to prepare them and present them in meals, cooking and correct storage. We hope this year to arrange for some groups to visit the farm to build on the program further, where children with their parents can have the chance to see the elements of growing the fruit. You never know, maybe we can ignite the kids imaginations towards an interest in a career in the apple industry one day! If not, we are pretty confident they will, at the very least, become fresh Apple and Pear ambassadors!

This is a big one for us and important as producers… Cider and Perry remains also an opportunity for us and the broader grower industry. We are planting more varieties suitable for cider and Perry making. We support Cider Australia in its efforts to raise funding for research into Apple and Pear provenance. This includes cider specific and unique heritage apple and pear collections that exist around Australia growing in commercial farms and nurseries. If we can develop a simple test that can be carried out in Australia for cider and Perry that proves Australian origin then we can potentially impact growth in export. Currently there is no program in Australia for proof of origin of the juice and final cider or Perry product. Proving provenance would potentially boost Australian grown cider export numbers. Growers can achieve higher prices for good cider specific apples and pears and this program could support growth in demand for these apples and pears by cider makers around Australia. There is also a need to map cider apple and Perry pear production, and check that varieties are true to type in the provenance trail.

It would also be good for the industry in relation to cider more generally being made from fresh Australian grown apples and pears rather than from imported concentrates.

I (Jo-Anne) completed my internationally recognised Cider Professional (Level 1) Accreditation with the American Cider Association in November 2023. This is the first step toward level 2, Pommelier. The Pommelier exam can only be taken currently in America and later this year will be available in Japan and UK. We support Cider Australia’s endeavours to make the exam available in Australia. I (Jo-Anne) am using cider knowledge from her training to improve our own delivery of Apple cider and Perry educational experiences for visitors as we strive to develop activities available on the farm across the year.

Schools are looking to us for programs with NSW children visiting to learn about production. This is a challenge to manage and we are looking at opportunities that may exist for providing a high quality visit and an education program that meets NSW curriculum requirements.

Shine a light on a deserving industry leader

Nominations are open for the 2024 APAL Awards for Excellence, recognising outstanding contributions to the apple and pear industry. Nominations close on 1 April 2024. Recipients will be announced at the APAL Awards for Excellence function on Sunday 2 June, honouring those shaping the future of the apple and pear industry.

Nominate now

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