Agritourism business development program participant: Greenlee Farm
Surrounded by tons of ripe macadamias and a new nutcracker, Paul and Robyn Lee initially applied to be part of the Scenic Rim’s business development program to explore ways to market their produce. Disheartened with the low returns when selling their nuts to a processor, the couple decided to deal direct with the public. “We were picking when the course came up, but we really hadn’t worked out how to move all the nuts ourselves, as well as the honey from our beehives,” says Robyn.
The Lees bought their picturesque 76-acre Canungra grazing property as part of a lifestyle decision in 1995. They planted 500 macadamia trees in the first phase of a plan to create a sustainable income from the land.
“We’re small producers, so we knew we needed to make the most of our crop. We had the quality which only comes from hand-sorting, but in the beginning, we weren’t sure where to turn next. The course created a direct path with facts, figures, and an evaluation process that was relevant to us. We learned what it takes to create and market a boutique product: we developed a strong brand that reflected our personality, emphasised high-quality beautiful packaging and incorporated our farm’s story into the labelling. That, combined with Greenlee’s quality nuts and honey and our Scenic Rim location, became our USP.”
The Lees followed the program’s suggestion to use local markets to grow their customer base and test their product. “We had a couple of different styles and I’d have a tick box to record their responses,” explains Robyn. “It was great because by the end of the day, we’d clearly have a winner… and at the same time we were forming relationships with our customers. In the early days, we were doing four markets each weekend. It was hard work, but it helped people get to know us. Now, when they see Greenlee nuts and honey in the local health-food or fruit and veg shops, they’re happy to buy.”
The Lees’ high-quality nuts and honey are also sought after by Eat Local ambassador and GOMA restaurant chef Josh Lopez, chef Ash Martin from Spicers Retreats and Boonah’s Wild Canary restaurant.
“The Scenic Rim has really come into its own as a food-producing region. People are also more aware of the importance of food provenance and they’re keen to hunt down local
produce,” says Robyn. “The course set us up perfectly to tap into that and it gave us some great contacts – the only issue we have now is being able to supply. We’ve reached our threshold, so sometimes it’s a problem. If our nuts are mentioned in the media by those chefs, we get a run of demand that can be difficult to meet. We’re just too small.”
In the early years of their business, the Lees worked part-time off the farm. Then, in 2016, they added four cottages to their Greenlee business to diversify their farm-based income. The cabins, with sunset and creek views, back onto the nut orchard. The couple say lessons from the program helped guide their feasibility studies, design and operation: “We had great insight into the accommodation industry through watching others in the course. So, when we decided to go down that route, we felt we had the heads-up.”
The farm and cottage businesses now employ both Paul and Robyn full-time and by next harvest, they hope to have enough work for a part-time cleaner and groundskeeper. The Lees work closely with surrounding wineries and wedding venues to help fill the local accommodation shortage. They’re also active participants in the Scenic Rim’s annual Eat Local Week.
KEY PROGRAM OUTCOMES
Greenlee macadamias and honey – moved to value-add by cracking and selling nuts direct to public; strong brand, well-defined distribution channels. Success evident with each harvest sell-out.
Greenlee Cottages – opened four cottages onsite in 2016, aimed at couples, designed to fill wedding and event accommodation gap in Canungra.
Investment – four cottages, with significant in-kind input.
Jobs – business created two full time jobs, in addition to part-time positions for harvest. Plans to employ a part-time cottage cleaner and groundsperson.