At the Northern Rivers Farm and Nature Tourism Project announcement, (from left), Mark Sollum and Justin Telfer of Bangalow Che
At the Northern Rivers Farm and Nature Tourism Project announcement, (from left), Mark Sollum and Justin Telfer of Bangalow Che

Farmers chasing tourism dollars

By Alex Easton

EIGHT months ago Justin Telfer had never worked on a farm. Now he owns one.

Mr Telfer said he had lived in cities most of his life, spending 12 years working in casinos, most recently as the manager of Crown Casino's VIP room, before deciding, with mate Mark Sollum, to swap his 100 square metre home in Melbourne for a property more than 1200 times bigger at Nashua.

After a brief struggle, coming to terms with building fences and managing livestock, Mr Telfer said he and Mr Sollum were preparing for a new venture that relies as much on tourism as it does on traditional farming practices.

Mr Telfer and Mr Sollum, who own and run the Bangalow Cheese Company, were yesterday among a group of about 20 people at a Lismore workshop aimed at helping local farmers plug into the region's strong tourist industry.

NSW Regional Development Minister Tony Kelly, who was at the workshop to announce a $40,000 Government contribution to the Northern Rivers Farm and Nature Tourism Project, said the project would help the farms, strengthen the tourism industry, and help spread the money generated by the industry across the region.

"It's about getting tourists off the coast," Mr Kelly said. "It might be they come for a week, but they don't want to spend every day doing the same thing."

Mr Kelly said the vision of tourists on farms extended beyond farm-stays, describing 'food trails' across the region similar to the wine trails of the Barossa Valley.

Industry development manager for Southern Cross University's Australian Regional Tourism Research Centre, Rose Wright, said part of the effort of developing farm-based tourism was to create a Northern Rivers brand for our produce that could compete with the likes of King Island in its reputation for quality.

The benefit of such ventures went beyond the money they brought into the farms (and their surrounding communities) during the visits, but doubled as a marketing campaign that would reap rewards long after the tourists went home.

That fits nicely with Mr Telfer, who studied cheese-making at Melbourne and has already won gold medals for his produce, and Mr Sollum's plans for a cheese-making operation at their farm.

And it's not only new arrivals getting in on the act. Local men Kerry and Paul Wilson (no relation) had bought an old dairy farm at Nimbin and were stocking it with goats and cows to create Nimbin Valley Dairy, which would have its own cheese-making section.



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