Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time for some healthy food direct from the grower

We were enjoying staying in a lovely home in Port Macquarie - the house was in the midst of being renovated but fortunately the area completed included the kitchen and family room and the bathroom.  The house had two road frontages and the owners were in the process of changing the internal layout so that it faced the sea view rather than a busy road.  I have already mentioned the lovely deck off the family room - this had an electric awning which we could put out when it wasn't windy and made the deck a very pleasant place to enjoy meals.

We are always grateful when homeowners entrust the care of their home and pets to us - a great win/win for both parties.

While in Port Macquarie I had seen on the local television an advertisement for Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries.  This is located about ten minutes driving north of Port Macquarie on a side road.  Fresh strawberries are always a draw card and with the bonus of great tomatoes we planned a day out.  We joined a farm tour so that we could learn a little more of the growing process and soon realised that another couple and us had been joined with a Probus group who were touring from Sydney.  The majority of that group would be lucky to see eighty again!  We didn't feel right at home.

One of the property owners explained that they originally farmed the land and they grew tomatoes for their personal use.  When they had too many they sold the spares from the farm gate.  They got so many requests for their tomatoes they decided to build a tunnel house and commence growing tomatoes hydroponically commercially.  They now have a number of tunnel houses and they source the seed from Holland, which are grown to seedling size off the property and then planted. They produce tomatoes all year around by controlling the temperature in the tunnel houses.  The use of a plastic curve that was placed to help with the weight of the truss fruit was very interesting. The tomatoes are trained along the framework so that the ripe tomatoes are at chest height for picking.

Once the tomato business was viable the gift shop and cafe was built but as tomatoes are not particularly interesting to visitors they had to think of a way to encourage day visitors and families. This is where the idea of the strawberries came from, and so tunnel houses were built to hydroponically grow the strawberries.  The difference with this property is that the strawberries are not grown at ground level but on frames made from piping which the plants are grown in and fed from.  This allows for maintenance of the plants and picking standing up and without any back strain from bending - quite ingenious.

As for the strawberries - they were huge and very tasty.  The other thing that was huge was the price at $16.00 a kilogram for the strawberries.  It would have been very easy to arrive at the scales in the gift shop and have a hefty dollar to pay.  We were each given a container and scissors - no using your nail or just pulling these strawberries they had to be cut off the plant with the scissors provided.

I also found it interesting at the gift shop counter that they had a sample of chocolate for dipping strawberries, but the strawberries were not provided.  To sample you had to take one of the strawberries you had paid for and dip.  There certainly wasn't any eat as you pick, and lots of signs up to say this was definitely not allowed.  Perhaps not an ideal place to bring the children after all as the temptation to pick and sample would be huge.

A few hydroponically grown lettuces are also produced.  We were lucky that they had some of these for sale in the gift shop so were able to buy a couple.  So finally we left with lettuces, tomatoes and strawberries but left behind the jams and relishes etc.  I have to say we enjoyed the lettuce and tomatoes over the next few days but the strawberries didn't make it home.

From here we ventured further west a little way to the small town of Wauchope.  It was originally a timber town and now has a heritage theme park based around the logging industry.  There are static displays of timber machinery and attractions such as a steam train, bullock team and stage coach.  We decided to give this attraction a miss.  Instead, we enjoyed a wander down the small shopping strip and chose one of the many cafes for a late lunch.  The area has become very popular for gourmet produce, including cheeses, wines, organic fruit and vegetables and of course the bed and breakfast establishments to go along with that. The town has a population of just 7500.  The Hastings River is at the northern end of the town and the area has been subjected to a number of catastrophic floods.

We decided that we had made a healthy choice with our visit to the tomato and strawberry farm, and a healthy lunch so instead it was time to visit the fudge shop - can't miss out on all the good things in life.
As we pulled into the carpark our friendly Probus group were just boarding their bus - obviously sweet treats were necessary with them as well.

So nougat and fudge was in the shopping basket from this outlet - shall I say all for Peter as I don't like nougat and one or two small pieces of fudge are more than enough for me and the sample plates provided were enough for me.

We had enjoyed a great day out and it was time to head home - exercise was next so dog walking filled the first hour or so on our return to Port Macquarie which was just twenty odd kilometres from Wauchope.

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