The Farmgate Festival is a yearly event in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley that features a handful of the region’s local farmers who specialize in everything from snails to walnuts. Attendees get a pass that allows them visit the 12 different farms for behind the scenes tours to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to own and operate a farm in the Tamar Valley.
I am constantly on the quest to learn something new, and the Farmgate Festival seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that! Besides, we had a ball the last time we went to the Tamar Valley with stops at The Platypus House and Launceston’s World Street Eats, so it seemed like the perfect weekend getaway from Hobart.
We visited 6 of the 12 farms; some were hits, some were misses, and here is a rundown of the journey.
Stop 1: Bridgenorth Berries
Bridgenorth Berries was born in 2017 when two best friends relocated to the Tamar Valley from New Castle NSW to start completely new lives. They bought the farm from a previous owner and took over growing the boysenberries, blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries in a baptism by fire fashion.
Narelle showed us around and explained that her primary passion in life is cabinet making and woodworking. Growing and harvesting berries was completely new to her as well as the co-owner, and she told us that Google was certainly a valuable resource. She showed us how the irrigation system worked, the magic of a pruning gun, and said that they never spray for bugs or weeds. I asked what they do to keep the animals away, and she simply responded, “we just share!”
- Farms in Tasmania used to welcome in backpackers to do some good old manual labor in exchange for a few bucks and maybe a place to stay. Recent tax laws, however, no longer make this a financially possible.
There were jams and frozen berries available for purchase.
Hit or Miss?:
Miss. The Farmgate Festival is before the height of berry season, meaning you don’t get to actually see or try the berries.
Stop 2: Glengarry Dairy
Glengarry Dairy is a dairy farm with 230 cows grazing across 400 acres of land. The cows are milked 3 times a day every 2 days, and each cow can produce 25 liters of milk a day. To maintain that output, each cow needs 65 kg of grass and 75 liters of water a day.
Steve Goldsack, a charismatic man with a toothy smile that lit up his eyes, fired off facts and numbers about what products the milk goes into including all sorts of milk products (powdered, 2%, skim, etc) as well as cheese and butter. He proudly explained how he and his wife put the cows first, and while big dairy farms can squeeze out far more milk each day, it takes a large toll on the animals. Glengarry Dairy farm, however, treats it’s heffers well and with respect. Does that translate into better tasted milk? Maybe!
- The farm profits $.40 AUD per liter of milk.
- It takes 25 liters of milk to make 1 kg of butter
Hit or Miss?
Hit! Steve gave interesting facts in a wildly entertaining fashion, and I walked away with knowledge in my pocket about how a dairy farm works.
Lunch: Moon Lily’s Kitchen and Cakes
Part of the festival included additional farm to table dinners featuring products from the participating farms. Of course, it comes at an additional price. At $120pp, we decided to pass. However, Moon Lily Kitchen and Cakes also offered a lunch menu, so we figured we’d stop in for a bite to eat.
Upon first impression, it screamed. “we love older tourists!!!!”
The interior of Moon Lily’s Kitchen and Cakes felt like it was trying far too hard to put on a rustic farm to table, fine-dining vibe while in fact it’s just your standard small town Tasmania café. A woman, who I’m guessing was the owner, came over with a buzzing friendliness that felt contrived. She took our order, told us that we absolutely HAD to go to Watertown Hall Vineyard next, then proceeded to drop us a menu for the special dinner that night in an attempt to upsell us. When someone tries to upsell me, I assume that the business strapped for profits, which usually means the products are sub-par.
Jeremy and I split a ham Croque-Monsier, which is just a fancy sounding hot sandwich with bread, ham, and melted cheese. Our dish had two poached eggs on top, which seemed out of place and purposeless. However, cheese on bread is fairly fool proof, and it tasted perfectly delicious.
We also shared a blueberry banana muffin that was fresh out the oven, and it was absolutely delicious. The muffin was ridiculously soft and fluffy, and the thick sweet cream on the side brought a decadent richness to each bite.
Was the lunch fine? Yes. Would I recommend Moon Lily Kitchen and Cakes to a friend? No.
Stop 3: Wilmore’s Bluff
Wilmore’s Bluff is a sheep and cattle farm that specializes in producing top quality wool that is then sold off to be made into various sweaters, socks, etc.
Like the owners of Bridgenorth Berries, the owners of Wilmore’s Bluff are brand spakin’ new to the industry with just a few years of experience under their belts. The man who’s name left my mind as soon as it entered began the tour by taking us into the sheering shed. He explained how the sheep are herded through the shed and demonstrated how the sheering tool worked. While I would have loved a real demonstration, the process was left to the imagination.
He continued to explain how the wool is then inspected by a professional wool-classer who will determine the quality, and then the market determines the price. He made a fleeting comment that demand from China has gone down, meaning that the giant pile of merino wool would be worth much less than the year prior.
- The most common disease among his sheep is Fly Strike. This is when a fly will lay eggs in the sheeps wool, then the larva that hatches feed off the animal leading to a painful death. To help prevent this, they sheer the lambs early on.
- Crows prey on lambs. However, they don’t eat the flesh; they eat out the eyes leaving the lambs for dead.
Yes. There was a gaggle of women knitting hats, socks, and scarves that were for sale.
Hit or Miss?
I could have learned all the given information from a simple google search, and the tour left my hungry brain wanting more. However, there are 2.2 million sheep in Tasmania, and it’s impossible not to drive past thousands on any sort of adventure. So, it was nice to see first hand what the heck all those sheeps are for!
Stop 4: Waterton Hall Vineyard
Waterton Hall Vineyard is the last convict built property in Tasmania nestled right on the Tamar River. It features historic buildings, a stunning waterfront, and acres and acres of grapes that are used for their premium wines.
The tour began with a tasting of Riesling and a serving of walnuts as the woman sporting a Louis Vuitton fanny pack began explaining the historic stone building in great detail. The wine was superb, but the lecture was yawn inducing. The tour continued on to another old building of sorts, a look at the grand estate, followed by a walk down to the boat house for another wine tasting with a cheese cracker “nibble.”
The woman rattled on a bit more about how gorgeous and impressive everything was with mind numbing details about how the brick bench was specifically designed to be the perfect seat for an adult, and how the “stunning anchor chain” was expertly restored to be an “exquisite handrail.” It was one of those moments where she was certainly giving informative facts, but all I could hear was “I’m better than you.” Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but hey, my brand is honesty.
I nearly pulled my hair out in frustration because I wanted to learn about the wine. How was it made? What’s the deal with growing different types of grapes? How do they compete with all of the surrounding vineyards?
Then I read the program:
Whoops…. guess the tour was exactly what I should have expected.
Yes! All three wines we tried were beautiful. The walnuts and fresh strawberries were delightful, the cheese cracker (from Moon Lily, go figure) wasn’t my cup of tea.
We bolted out as soon as we could… but yes, you could buy wine.
Hit or Miss?
I made the fatal error of not reading the program. If you are interested in architecture and history, this tour is an absolute hit! If you want to learn about wine, total miss. While the experience didn’t tickle my fancy, there’s no denying that the property is absurdly beautiful and the wine is quite good.
Dinner in Launceston
After a full day on our feet and in the sun, pizza was calling our name. The Pizza Pub seemed like the “the” pizza spot in Launceston, so we walked on over and got a seat. The service was less than desirable, and no one communicated that we had to go order at the bar. HGowever, our pizza and wings came out in a timely manner and it was perfectly descent pizza. Nothing outrageously special, but certainly satisfying.
Dessert came next. We moseyed on over to the Launceston Cold Rock, which is the Australian version of Cold Stone Creamery. I nearly had a heart attack when our two normal sized ice creams rang up at $20 AUD. Sure, it was good ice cream… but was it worth the price tag? Not a chance!
Stop 5: Tascargot and Winter Brook Vineyard
Winter Brook Vineyard is owned and operated by a lovely Dutch couple who grow and produce small batch cool-climate wines that are big, bold, and delicious. On the side, the Winter Brook Vineyard is home to Tasmania’s only escargot farm, Tascargot, where they breed and cultivate hundreds of snails to pair with the wine, creating a unique experience that makes this vineyard stand apart from the other 30 wineries in the region.
The Tour of the Snail Farm:
Part one was a tour of the snail farm which consists of narrow rows of vegetable gardens covered with a net to prevents the snails from escaping. Then further down, there are big metal structures filled with even more snails that were still hibernating. Fun fact… snails hibernate!
The harvesting process goes as follows: once the snail gets to the appropriate size (1 year or so), they will starve it for 5 days so it excretes out all the food in it’s system. Then, they stick them in the freezer for 15 minutes to “put them to sleep” before boiling them until cooked and tender. From there, the snails are either packaged for sale or are ready be sautéed and served to your liking!
- Snails are highly territorial and they produce a pungent slime that they refuse to cross over, which is why the gardens are long and narrow.
- Speaking of slime, if you don’t properly clean and prepare the snail, the slime will make you sick if ingested.
- The mating process of snails (which we saw!) lasts 17 hours.
- Snails are hermaphrodites, making mating pretty simple.
The second part of the experience involved a walk up the road to see where the wine was made. The man explained the process of fermenting the grapes in the various barrels followed by combining several barrels into a another vat to let the flavors blend into one. Finally, the wine is bottled in small batches.
- The barrel itself plays a key component in the price. The specific type of oak is part of the story, and they other is the toasting process it goes through. A specialist goes through and singes the inside, and the different level of singing will impact the flavor of the wine.
Not only did we get to try raw wine straight from the barrel, but we also got to sample each of the wines available for sale. While my pallet for wine is unrefined, I thought they all tasted lovely.
Yes. We walked away with two bottle.
Hit or Miss?
Total hit, and a highlight of The Farmgate Festival!
Stop 6: Lentara Grove
Lentara Grove is one of Tasmania’s oldest olive groves, and it produces gourmet cold-pressed olive oils along side skincare products and Dukkah. It is family owned and operated, and their products have earned numerous awards.
We committed my cardinal sin of being late; we were wrapped up in wine tasting at Winter Brook Vineyard… whoops….
While we missed the spiel on the olive trees themselves, we made it just in time to see how the olives were pressed into oil. Martin Grace, on the of the owners, explained how the machine churned and pressed the olives down into liquid. Oil and water don’t mix, and the oil can then be separated off the top and bottled. Martin clearly was an olive oil master, and he pointed to the dozens of barrels behind him with a shrugged, “that oil just wasn’t up to our standard.”
- Extra-virgin means that the olive oil is 100% pure with no other types of oil added in.
- “Cold-pressed” means that the olives never exceed a certain temperature. However, the standard varies by country: in Tasmania it’s 28 C and in the Mediterranean it’s 30 C…. both temperatures I would consider far from “cold.”
Yes. We sampled the normal, chili, garlic, and lemon infused olive oils. All were superb with a pure, rich flavor that tasted clean, for lack of a better word. The price tags were a bit high for our frugal budget, so we passed on making a purchase.
Yes. The olive oils and skincare products were available for sale.
Hit or Miss?
Hit! The tour (erm, well, at the least the part we saw) was informative and interesting, and I learned something new.
To wrap it all up….
The Farmgate Festival was all in all a fantastic experience and a great way to learn more about what it’s actually like to own a farm.
While it was interesting to learn about how much milk a cow can produce and how to sheer a sheep, the most fascinating part of the experience to me was that half of the farms we visited were run by novice farmers who bought the land with little to no experience. I’ve always (wrongfully) assumed that farming is a career you start young, and one that is likely passed down through generations.
Not to mention, the concept of dropping your entire career past the age of 40 to start a new one you have little to no experience in is equally baffling as it is inspiring.
Society, well, American society at least, still values the idea of starting a career right out of college and continuing it until it’s time to retire. While this straightforward vision of a “successful life” is outdated in today’s fast pace economy, there is still a persisting pressure put on young people in their 20s to “figure it out.” At 27, I am continually grappling with an unwarranted sense of guilt for not having my 5, 10, and 20 year goals in place. My entire career was upended due to COVID-19, I don’t know what path I’ll head down next, and this often gets me down and out with an invisible self-drawn “failure” etched across my forehead.
Seeing these people happily reinvent themselves at an older age was inspiring. Why not switch from nursing to owning a berry farm? Or change from owning a pharmacy to sheering sheep? Perhaps, the seemingly idyllic vision of hard work culminating into something incredible by age 66 as you look back on your “life’s work” isn’t so beautiful after all. Why be successful in one career when you can be successful in many?
Change, growth, and discovery shouldn’t have an age limit, and that was certainly my biggest takeaway from the Farmgate Festival.
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