Julie Shelton grew up in Tasmania and was turned on to good food early.
“We had access to an abundance of clean seafood, and high-quality wine, fruits and vegetables,” she says. While her father was an academic, he grew up in the country and loved being able to feed his family food he had grown or caught. He cultivated a small range of seasonal vegetables, they had fruit trees in the backyard. Whenever the weekend weather was conducive, they would go fishing.
It’s probably no surprise that Julie is passionate about food. That may be an understatement. In 1991 she started an organic farm with her partner – The Village Organic Farm. She says it began as a small dairy herd supplying a nearby cheesery.
“Within a couple of years we had bought the cheesery and added production systems that incorporated bees, pigs, beef cattle, meat chickens, and egg layers. Each underutilised output from one system became an input for the new system.”
“A decade (and a LOT of hard work) later we had a profitable, diverse, integrated organic farm that utilised biodynamic practices to produce an abundance of healthy foods and offered work to 13 friends. We also built a shop – The General Store – so we had somewhere from which we could retail our produce, complemented by the produce of other local farmers, direct to our customers.”
The food miles for their products was generally less than a kilometer!
“Having a direct relationship with our customers meant that we could produce what they wanted: if they asked for a particular flavour sausage, we’d include that request next time we were making a batch,” Julie says.
Julie then had a stint working with a local not for profit and observing the alarming number of farming families in crisis.
“Like other rural regions – some of which continue to be in crisis today – this area was experiencing the terrible effects of poverty and community breakdown, including bankruptcy, loss of family farms and suicide,” she said. “It was an indictment of government policies – local, state and federal – that more wasn’t being done to value and support our nation’s food producers.”
Later she was consulting to food producers needing help to shoulder their compliance burden and at the same time was working with chefs and retailers wanting to source more local food.
“Consumer demand for local food was growing but the two ends of the supply chain were struggling to find each other,” she said. So it became obvious that a regular event was needed to bring people together.
“In September 2011 we nervously held our first Real Food Festival, not knowing who would turn up.”
Turns out she didn’t need to worry. For that first event more than 4000 people came through the gates, and since then some 25,000 visitors have been part of the Real Food Festival.
Julie says the event raises the profile of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland as a food tourism destination.
“Local food is vital to healthy bodies and healthy communities,” Julie says, when asked about why acknowledging local farmers is so important. “A short food supply chain means that the food retains much of its nutrient value, and we can more easily digest and be nourished by food from our own bioregion.”
“It’s hard to fathom why we as a nation don’t care more about our food producers. In terms of man’s hierarchy of needs, having access to food, water and air is fundamentally a metabolic requirement for survival,” she said, but acknowledges that beyond that need, enjoying good food, particularly with good company, is one of life’s most easily achieved pleasures.
“By supporting our local farmers and food producers, we are also keeping money circulating locally. The longer it stays in our region before being syphoned off by national and multi-national companies, the more we can build our local economy and grow resilient communities.”
Julie says that leads to more jobs and a heightened sense of belonging.
“I believe local food is the best way to satisfy our ‘hunger for connection’,” Julie said.
The Real Food Festival, now in its fifth year is being supported by Tourism and Events Queensland for the first time in 2015 and the program is jam-packed full of foodie fun. The event runs 12 – 13 September at Maleny Showgrounds.
With talks, samples and hands-on skill sessions as diverse as cooking schools, kitchen gardens, food craft, cooking demonstrations, nourishing ideas, Little Sprouts kids area, conversations with cookbook authors and bloggers, bush foods, food rescue programs, culinary herbs, bees, publishing and storytelling, making pickles, compost, chickens, food ethics, GMOs and food labeling as well as exhibitions that include coffee, chilli, vanilla, cheeses, berries, avocado oils, sprouting devices, jerky, pork, kombucha, preserves, paleo, chicken, juices, pies and heaps more.
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Real Food Festival takes place 12 – 13 September at Maleny Showgrounds. Get info at realfoodfestivals.com.au.