A WALLISTON orchardist, who recently made the switch to agri-tourism, believes local businesses will benefit from the City of Kalamunda’s pledge to help producers diversify and value-add as part of its new Economic Development Strategy.
Facing low market prices and soaring production costs, S&R Orchard owner Santino Costanzo moved away from traditional fruit production in favour of a new agri-tourism business model.
“We were getting paid just $2 a kilo for our top-grade nectarines and plums and this didn’t even go close to covering the costs of picking, packing and transport, let alone the cost of growing the fruit,” he said.
“Our backs were against the wall and I didn’t want to have to sell our orchard to land developers. It was either take a risk or lose everything.”
Mr Costanzo, his wife Pat and their four children came up with the Fruits Festival, where people could come and pick their own fruit from the tree, tour the orchard and learn how the fruit is produced.
“Our first event in December saw 2000 people through the gates, and we estimate they picked and took home about two tonnes of fruit,” he said.
Mr Costanzo said he was passionate about teaching children where their food comes from.
“It’s a great family experience because we are just a half-an-hour drive from the city, and also a great opportunity to teach kids about local food production and where fresh food comes from,” he said.
“You’d be surprised how many children think that food just comes from the supermarket.”
Mr Costanzo said on the back of their first successful event they would open up the orchard to the public on weekends throughout January, February and March.
S&R Orchard also holds a pink blossom festival in September, where people can take photos and picnic among the nectarine, plum, apricot and blossoms.
“We’ve had a couple of wedding parties take their photos in the blossoms, and that looked spectacular. We’re hoping that idea will really take off too,” he said.
Mr Costanzo welcomed City of Kalamunda Mayor John Giardina’s commitment to support land producers diversify and improve their business viability.
“I think this is the future of agri-business in the Perth Hills,” he said.
“As small producers, we will have to continue to come up with new ideas and ways to sell our fruit if we are going to survive.
“Any support the City can give us is really helpful.”
Cr Giardina said selling the Perth Hills as a tourist destination was a key priority of the City’s draft Economic Development Strategy to help drive economic growth in the area.
He said with a focus on product development, destination marketing and destination management, the region could grow into a popular destination for local, national and international visitors.
Cr Giardina said fruit and vegetable growers, wine, cider and honey producers all had an opportunity to attract tourists through diversification and value-adding.
There are also opportunities to develop export to the Asia region, where demand has increased for high quality products.