Agritourism business development program participant: Tommerups Farm Stay
As dairy farmers, Scenic Rim’s Tommerup family have faced their fair share of challenges, but since throwing open their farm gate to welcome curious city visitors, their business has experienced a fresh surge of energy and success.
Several times a year, hundreds flock to Tommerup’s Farm to Fork journey and Moo to You open days. Visitors can also stay on the Kerry Valley farm, soaking up country hospitality in charming farmhouse accommodation.
Kay Tommerup attributes the change in business fortunes to a mind shift, triggered by the Scenic Rim’s agritourism business development program: “The program was the beginning of a change in the way we looked at ourselves and our business. It really made us see value within – we were empowered. We got to know who we are and what our product is. We learned it was okay to be different. In fact it is great to be different. We realised how important it is to help people connect with our passion for food and the land, so they develop a passion of their own.”
With the support of the program, the Tommerups first analysed parts of their business and lifestyle where they’d not previously seen value; old farm equipment, rusty wagon wheels and quirky family photos were soon woven into an inspired family history, dating back six generations. The farm’s original workers’ accommodation building was transformed into rustic cottage accommodation, closely followed by a renovation of The Homestead, the original family home built in 1888, which now comfortably sleeps up to 13 people.
Ethically raised meat products, raw honey, dairy products and produce followed as the family actively diversified the farm’s income stream. Next, the challenge was to incorporate farm-gate sales and tours for farm guests and other visitors. “We realised our survival hinged on higher value activities,” says Kay. “The program helped us evaluate what we did and how we could make the best use of our time. So we went from doing day tours, which take up lots of time for not a lot of money, to open days and exclusive tours for larger groups. Instead of just a couple of people spread over a lot of days, we changed to welcome hundreds on one day. They can now choose interactive demonstrations, dairy tours or a self-guided trail and historical experience. Then they can sit among the century-old fig trees with a farmers’ feast breakfast or a lingering lunch: old-fashioned pork sausages and wood-smoked bacon straight from our own heritage breed pigs, local freerange eggs and sourdough bread. And then they can buy more of those goodies from our larder to take home. ”
The Tommerup’s success has not gone unrecognised. “The course really made us value working with others. We began collaborating with our neighbours, swapping produce and bread to make up our hampers and creating value-chain partners by sending some of our milk to White Gold Creamery, so they could turn it into the cheese we now sell to our customers. We worked with local operators to develop a Lost World touring map to bring people to this part of the world. Before the course, there wasn’t much momentum, but after the agritourism program, when Scenic Rim Council started implementing the food strategy, we really began to see what could be achieved by banding together.
The breakthrough came in 2011, with the Scenic Rim Council’s launch of Eat Local Week, an annual festival promoting the evolution of Scenic Rim as a food-producing region.
“I will never forget the atmosphere at the launch of the Eat Local book, which showcased producers across our region. It was as if seeing our stories in print helped give our producers confidence in who they are. Together, we’re learning the value of being authentic and sharing our stories. The book and event have helped show producers they are valued and they should value themselves. What happens on the farm is pretty special and we should be sharing that with other people.”
More recently the Tommerups also hosted a prestigious $125 per head Eat Local Week Producers’ Lunch, working with author, chef, food teacher and presenter Brenda Fawdon, to combine the best of the produce across the region with their own as part of an influential sell-out “foodie” event.
Through the evolution of the Tommerups’ family business, Kay has become a go-to person for advice. For four years she has represented her region as vice-president and now president of Scenic Rim Escapes, an organisation of local tourism operators. She is also a Scenic Rim representative on the region’s tourism advisory committee and regularly represents the region at speaking engagements. The Tommerups have become the “poster family” representing all that is wonderful about farming in their region.
The business now employs two people full-time, and six part-time, including the Tommerups’ two children, a marketing manager, a cleaner, two farm workers and a raft of others on open days. The family says they get great satisfaction reinvesting in the business. The farm now earns as much from tourism as it does from primary production, creating new opportunities for the next generation of Tommerups to continue the family farming traditions albeit in a contemporary way. “I really believe that the agritourism business development program we did should be mandatory for all tourism businesses in the Scenic Rim. We would have the highest quality businesses anywhere. The course made us dig deep into who we were and how we wanted to show people our story. Rather than just being another farm-stay, we have built a profile on who we really are. We’ve become confident to show that to other people. We still evaluate everything that we do on what we were taught in that course.”
- Diversification: from dairy and farm tours to multiple income streams, including farm-stay accommodation, mixed produce, artisan meats and open days attracting 300-800 people
- Leadership: Kay and Dave Tommerup have become key influencers in the region’s agritourism profile
- Investment and productivity: the Tommerups have created multiple income streams and reinvested $50,000 per year in their business
- Jobs: Kay has given up her day job as a school administration officer to work full-time on the farm. The business has created two full time and six part time jobs