Kim and Jason Lewis, owners of Cooloola Berries in
Kim and Jason Lewis, owners of Cooloola Berries in Renee Albrecht

Agritourism pays off for Wolvi berry farmers

AGRITOURISM is a fairly new concept in the Gympie region, but Wolvi family farm Cooloola Berries is helping lead the charge as the practice sees growing interest from local food producers.

Cooloola Berries has been open to the public for their third strawberry season from June to November this year, and owner Kim Lewis said agritourism plays a key role in the farm's operation.

"Half of our business is wholesale fruit that we sell locally," Mrs Lewis said.

"We sell to Farmer and Son, we sell to IGA at Pomona, we sell to IGA at Noosa Outlook, and then we do farmers markets in Maryborough and Gympie."

"The other half is the agritourism components."

With farmers across Australia struggling to make ends meet, more are turning to agritourism to help pay the bills, and Mrs Lewis said the practice was growing in the region.

"Where you used to just grow strawberries and send them to market, it's not a viable living now, just doing that," Mrs Lewis said.

"Strawberries have changed."

Compared to most berry farms, Cooloola Berries is a small enterprise with a mere 55,000 plants.

"Most strawberry farms grow millions of plants, and they have big investors," Mrs Lewis said.

"We focus on small scale farming.

"We do most of the work ourselves; we do it as a family."

The farm grows eight different varieties of strawberry, but Mr and Mrs Lewis are now branching out with blueberries and raspberries.

"We have blueberries that started last year, and this year we're going to give raspberries a go," Mrs Lewis said.

"It's an income stream for us beyond the strawberry season, which is from June to November.

"Blueberries and raspberries are a summer crop."

The strawberry runners are planted in April in preparation for the season.

"Once there's a flower, it's six weeks from flower to fruit," Mrs Lewis said.

Mrs Lewis is expecting a good strawberry season, but said every year had its challenges.

"We have eight varieties, which supports us through a range of weather conditions," she said.

"There's always some challenge that comes up.

"At the moment it's the warm days that are continuing, but I'm sure that will come to an abrupt end and then there'll be something else to factor in."

The farm will be open to the public seven days a week from 9am to 4.30pm from June to Christmas.

Cooloola Berries will be open for lunch this season, and will offer paella every Sunday made from locally produced products.

Mrs Lewis said the farm attracts plenty of tourists, as well as local mothers and children.

"It can be a real mix. Last year we had 46 groups through for farm activities," she said.

The farm also runs classes for kids and adults in jam making and fruit preserving.

"I certainly think there's a lot of interest from mum and dad-type farms like us that are looking at different models to run their business under," Mrs Lewis said.

"You have to enjoy meeting people and welcoming people to your home."

For more information, visit cooloolaberries.com.au.