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27 February, 2021

New value adding for Co-op members

TABLELAND organic and biodynamic farmers will soon have the opportunity to value add to their produce and widen the product range they can offer their customers.


BY SALLY TURLEY

TABLELAND organic and biodynamic farmers will soon have the opportunity to value add to their produce and widen the product range they can offer their customers. 

Manager of their Atherton Co-operative store, Gwen Collins and her team are in the process of setting up an organic and biodynamic accredited kitchen for use by Co-op members.

They have signed the lease on the building next door, are applying for solar grants and are planning the fit out of the shop. 

Ms Collins said there had been a lot of interest in the project so far, including an enquiry from a Ravenshoe herb farmer and a juice maker from Yungaburra. 

“There are a lot of rules and regulations involved in getting organic accreditation for a commercial kitchen. It would be quite a difficult and expensive process for people to do in their homes,” she said. 

Producers would be able to hire the Co-op kitchen for a modest fee, with payment going towards covering costs such as insurance, council fees and set up and maintenance of the facility. 

Once up and running, the facility would be ideal for projects such as cooking marmalades, processing dried and indigenous mushroom and producing garlic paste and tumeric powder, among other things. 

Anything produced through the kitchen would be labelled with the Co-operative brand verifying the item's organic and biodynamic status. 

If a suitable educator/trainer could be found, it could also be used as a training kitchen for the long term unemployed, or other special interest groups within the community. 

The shop started as a producers cooperative almost 11 years ago when Gwen and her partner Adam Collins, organic and biodynamic growers themselves, wanted to reduce the 'food miles' associated with their produce. 

The enthusiastic response received soon made organisers realise that consumers also wanted involvement in the enterprise at a deeper level, and there are now 140 producers and consumers directly invested as stakeholders. 

The not for profit entity which aims to deliver “local food for local people,” has accumulated 25 local suppliers, 22 dedicated volunteers and a loyal and growing customer base, along the way. 

Known fondly by locals as the “Tableland Oasis,” most customers who come to the shop and experience the freshness and flavour of the fruit and vegetables and the level of customer service on offer, say they won't be going back to the Supermarket. 

There is a warmth and camaraderie in the store that flows from people doing what they love and the store has evolved into more than just a point of purchase. 

It has become a social hub for consumers who care deeply about the quality of the food they eat. 

“While food quality has never been an issue, there have been some difficulties with quantity over the years. There are a few gaps in our product range and we need consistency of supply,” Ms Collins said. 

“We don't have any celery growers in the far north and we often have a feast or famine situation with our cucumbers, tomatoes and oranges for example. There are usually ample supplies while local produce is in season, but we have to rely on our 2 southern wholesale suppliers to fill the gaps when local supply dwindles.

“Smaller scale producers who just want a seasonal outlet for an abundance of garden produce, can become ‘approved suppliers,’ which is less onerous than full accreditation.

“We welcome new suppliers and will be here to help them through the processes involved,” Ms Collins said.   


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