Straight to the Source has released its 2018 schedule. Four tours have been announced by founder Tawnya Bahr and business partner Lucy Allon, with additional tours to be revealed in the coming months.
Next year’s lineup kicks off with the Darling Mills Farm tour on 19 February, followed by a new addition to the stable, Riverina Unearthed, on 19 March.
The first half of 2018 also includes an overnight trip to the Grampians on 29 April, while the second half of the year will see another tour of Darling Mills Farm on 27 August and a return to the Eyre Peninsula for Catch and Cook III — the third in a series of tours to the region — on 12 and 13 November.
All experiences focus on establishing links with producers, growers and catchers. For example, Riverina ‘Unearthed’ will allow participants to learn about organic soybean, rice and grain production along with discovering the region’s sugar plums and jujubes.
The Grampians tour will offer attendees the chance to learn about sustainable and biodynamic farming, the production of extra virgin olive oil and provide the opportunity to hand-harvest Pink Lake salt and forage for native plants.
Straight to the Source manages all the logistics and every tour is designed specifically for food industry professionals, both back and front of house. While some regions have been visited before, each trip is unique, with Bahr and Allon offering a new experience on each tour.
“We’re excited to be able to offer more tours to Darling Mills Farm where we can add in extra elements, like Lisa Margan joining us,” says Bahr. “On every tour, we get more and more new chefs, but always have repeats as well and that’s really validating — they must be getting something out of it.”
It’s no surprise chefs and other industry professionals value the opportunity to go on Straight to the Source tours, given how much time Bahr and Allon invest in researching, developing and preparing each one.
“On average, they take about six months [to put together],” says Bahr. “One tour from last year took almost three years to put together. We do our homework and we always have a plan A, B, C and D. That’s the value in what we do — we research at great lengths.”
A lot of the process is finding and building relationships with suppliers. The tours are all designed with both industry professionals and producers in mind, with the aim to create an atmosphere that encourages mutually beneficial exchanges.
“We understand industry professionals want a deeper experience beyond a gourmet food tour,” says Allon. “Given Tawnya and I both had different careers and backgrounds in the industry, we pool that experience with what we feel the industry is lacking — which is real access to producers in an accessible way.
“We’re really looking at technical things to give them a level of detail and education that is offered elsewhere. It’s about understanding the processes that each individual farmer or producer we visit goes through to bring their product to market.
“It’s really just building a better understanding about what goes into the production side of things so chefs can work in a more sustainable and aware way.”
The results of this industry focus are often tangible. The tours have influenced many attendees to change the way they use a product on their menu.
On a recent tour of mushroom farm Regal Mushrooms in Londonderry, NSW — organised by Straight to the Source in collaboration with
Hort Innovation — chefs were made aware of the issues mushroom growers face when meeting market specifications.
“When they heard Regal Mushrooms had this stock on hand that would need to be discounted because it didn’t meet market requirements, there were a couple of people in that group who said, ‘If that ever happens again, I’m someone who can help out by taking the stock’,” says Allon.
According to Bahr, some chefs have started sourcing from Regal Mushrooms, who specialise in growing flat mushrooms, and even asked them to grow mushrooms to use as pizza bases.
“We’re determined to create an environment that is meaningful,” says Bahr. “It’s not always about procurement, but on every tour, foodservice professionals and producers form an attachment to each other.”
Straight to the Source also offer private experiences for restaurants and other industry bodies, like the mushroom tour, which they can create for a whole team within a budget and time allowance.
“We run a variety of tours,” says Bahr. “A certain amount of the tours are ticketed [such as those on the 2018 schedule], but private experiences are also really important to us because we can meet specific objectives for people.
“We are the go-to resource for chefs, food professionals and industry bodies. We’re a good resource because we have a good network.”
While five tours to four different regions have already been announced, more are in the works, including a porcini tour and trips to other regions. To stay in the loop, Bahr and Allon recommended signing up for the Straight to the Source newsletter.