Local producers the heart of Moree on a Plate – on today

DESPITE evolving over the past 15 years into a festival celebrating the rich diversity of the Moree community, local producers remain firmly at the heart of Moree on a Plate.

Established to showcase and promote the quality produce of the north-west plains, Moree on a Plate president, Bethany Kelly, was thrilled the region continues to enjoy a strong ‘gate to plate’ culture.

“We are so lucky to know our farmers, see first-hand the provenance of our food and be assured that it is produced safely, sustainably and tastes the best,” Bethany said.

From olives to pecans, oranges to honey, there are vibrant industries developing across the district, all thriving from the rich black-soil plains that cemented Moree as a cropping, grazing and cotton heartland.

Otto and Nicole Drenkhahn of Sleepy Hollow Honey, major sponsor of Moree on a Plate, Local Land Services’ Caleb Doyle and Toni Jericho with Gwydir Grove’s Jenni Birch, Lucinda Chick of Sleep Sanctuary and Susie Long of Pally Pecans.

And while drought conditions have impacted local boutique industries, all concede that what they lost in production, they made up for in quality.

Susie Long of Pally Pecans said pecan yields were down a little, a heavy winter prune also contributing to lighter production.

“Most fruiting trees have an on year and off year; 2019 should have been an on year thus there was an opportunity to give them a heavy prune without impacting too much on production. A lack of rainfall really delayed their recovery,” Susie said.

Cockatoos also have reaped havoc on their results; pecan trees have proven a delicious meal in the absence of an alternative food source during the drought.

But Susie says that while harvest was later this year and production below average, quality was high, thanks to sound soil nutrition, and that she and husband Rob were looking forward to another successful day at Moree on a Plate.

“We always have a great day at Moree on a Plate, and are proud to be involved – it just depends on the weather as to what we sell,” Susie said.

“If it is cold we tend to sell sweet flavours – maple, cinnamon or honey roasted pecans are great with a warming coffee, but if it’s a warm day we do better with savoury flavours such as lime chilli or barbeque – great with wine tasting.”

With the olive harvest in full swing across the district, Gwydir Grove Olive’s Jenni Birch said a late September frost knocked flowering around and, as such, production has been lower – but quality has been exceptionally high.

Gwydir Grove’s olive oils, which come in a variety of flavours, are synonymous with the Moree on a Plate Festival – Jenni and business partner, Margi Kirkby, were pioneers of the annual event.

Sleepy Hollow Honey is another key player in the local produce industry – its fresh, home-grown honey is hugely popular.

Otto and Nicole Drenkhahn’s hives are situated by the river in the Pallamallawa district, and produces rich river gum honey reflective of the local environment.

Nicole believes the region is perfect for honey production, the variety of native flora and fauna a considerable asset.

“We produce honey that is cold-filtered, so it’s not heated, not disturbed, just pure, natural honey,” Nicole said.

With nearly 100 hives, their honey is harvested three times a year, and hives are supplied generously prior to winter when there isn’t much for bees to forage on. 

“Lots of people feed over winter but we make sure there is enough in reserve so we don’t have to disturb the bees unnecessarily,” Nicole said.

“Bee-keeping is a fairly labour-intensive practice, but worth it for the delicious honey produced.”

Honey is one of the leading sources of pre-biotics, which make their way further into the gut than pro-biotics found in yoghurts.

“These pre-biotics get right through to the digestive tract, and are so beneficial,” Nicole said.

“Also, because our honey is locally produced, it can assist with seasonal allergies and help the immune system cope. Moree on a Plate is always a great opportunity for people to stock up on fresh honey for hot honey and lemon drinks before winter.”

One of the major sponsors of this year’s festival is North West Local Land Services, with team leader Sara Chapman proud that the organisation is associated with such a premier food and wine festival.

“It’s fantastic to support an event that is showcasing local producers and sharing the message of provenance awareness, now more than ever people are vested in where their food comes from, and we can happily, and proudly, teach them, show them and even introduce them to the people responsible for feeding the nation,” Sarah said.

Bethany Kelly thanked Sara and Local Land Services North West for its very generous sponsorship.

“Without local sponsorship our festival simply wouldn’t be, and we are so grateful to LLS – we feel greatly honoured that an organisation of LLS’s calibre shares our vision and is committed to the ongoing success of Moree on a Plate,” she said.

Moree on a Plate opens at 10am today, Saturday, May 11, at Moree Secondary College’s Albert Street campus.

Entry is just a gold-coin donation.

Words and Image: Georgina Poole