IMAGINE an organic vegetable, fruit and herb farm that hosts visits from south east Queensland’s best chefs, who then return to their restaurants and create menus based on what they have tasted and seen.
The Falls Farm at Mapleton, not far from the Mapleton Falls National Park, is doing just that. In the process it’s becoming a key player in a wave that’s sweeping through the blue ribbon restaurant sector – the variety, quality and flavours of the produce and herbs available is dictating the meals that are created.
“I think that’s where these sorts of restaurants are going; they want to make that move to be able to grow with the grower, and we also want to learn from them,” Christine Ballinger, of The Falls Farm, said.
The list of recent visitors is a sort of who’s who of the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane restaurant scene: Spicers Clovelly Estate’s Executive Chef Cameron Matthews, 2013 Queensland Good Food Guide Chef of the Year Alejandro Cancino of Brisbane’s Urbane restaurant, Gerard’s Bistro head chef Ben Williamson, 2012 Master-chef winner Andy Allen and more.
They have each taken a taste tour of the farm and some have even cooked at its outdoor wood-fired oven.
“I ask them, ‘What are you looking for? What would you like us to grow in our climactic conditions?’ – that’s the way I like to work with the restaurants,” Ms Ballinger said.
The 24-acre Falls Farm is a mini-miracle itself. It was purchased in 2013, after some 20 years of little care, and was overgrown with various weeds and vines, including lantana six metres high.
Over time, the land was cleared, new garden “rooms” were created, orchards, crops and herbs planted and fertilized with home-made organic fertilizer, and greenhouses established.
Parts of the farm are also being regenerated to its natural native form. The farm today produces a wide array of vegetables, fruit – including rare varieties – scores of the intense and exquisitely flavoured herbs and, on top of that, also provides punnets of edible flowers and flavoursome leaves to award winning restaurants.
Among the scores of unique edible offerings are the tiny sweet bean-flavoured flower from the Blue Kentucky Bean vine, fresh flowers from the cucumber vine, Fennel with its sweet pollen and aniseed flavour, the Stinging Nettle, the liquorice herb, the incredibly sweet leaves of Stevia and the Cranberry Hibiscus, which produces burgundy leaves with a berry and citrus flavour.
“It’s got a great texture, it’s got a really interesting flavour, it contributes to the complexity of the food,” Ms Ballinger explains. “It doesn’t just look pretty, it’s got a purpose on the plate beyond its appearance.”
The farm includes the outdoor oven and entertaining area, several ponds and lakes that provide tranquil and peaceful surrounds and areas suitable for small events and pitching tents. Last year, it hosted its first wedding.
The property also includes the nearby Smith House luxury accommodation facility. The farm recently opened its farm gate sales shed on Mapleton Falls Road. It also conducts farm tours that aim to educate the community on the wide variety of produce and flavours that are available to the modern consumers and what they believe are the best ways to grow healthy produce.
“They get astounded, they say they’ve never heard of this vegetable or herb before, never seen it,” Ms Ballinger said. “It’s a place of education; it’s not just about growing food, it’s about the environment, it’s about ways of thinking, it’s something people are looking for.”