RU­RAL IN­SIGHT

Townsville Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - KIM­BER­LEY VLASIC

VANILLA green­houses across the North are about to get steamy as the se­duc­tive spice en­ters the flow­er­ing sea­son.

From late next month through to Novem­ber, grow­ers such as Fiona Ge­orge and Matt Allen of Bro­ken Nose Vanilla will wake at sunrise to pol­li­nate their vanilla crops by hand, us­ing a flat­tened stick to push the male and fe­male parts of the creamy orchid flower to­gether.

This role is usu­ally per­formed by a bee na­tive to Mexico, which pro­vided the coun­try with a 300- year­long mo­nop­oly on vanilla pro­duc­tion un­til this method of ar­ti­fi­cial pol­li­na­tion was dis­cov­ered.

“The sea­son goes for about three months and, at the peak, we’ll do 1000 flow­ers each per day,” said Ms Ge­orge. “It’s a lovely time of year and we re­ally en­joy what we do, so it’s not re­ally a chore.

“The beans take nine months to ma­ture, so we’re pick­ing from May to July then as soon as the beans come off, flow­er­ing starts again.”

The cou­ple from Mir­ri­winni, about an hour south of Cairns, is fresh from ex­hibit­ing at one of Queens­land’s big­gest food fes­ti­vals, Re­gional Flavours at Bris­bane’s South Bank, which drew more than 80,000 peo­ple over the week­end.

As found­ing mem­bers of the Trop­i­cal North Queens­land Re­gional Food Net­work – Taste Par­adise – they also pro­moted other lo­cal pro­duce, such as Silk­wood’s Aussie Pep­per.

“It’s prob­a­bly the only fes­ti­val I know of that re­ally show­cases re­gional pro­duce from Queens­land,” Ms Ge­orge said.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic at­mos­phere for cus­tomers be­cause it’s free, there are lots of ac­tiv­i­ties for kids, there’s en­ter­tain­ment and well- known chefs – a lot of draw­cards to bring peo­ple in.

“Over the years, the public who go there have be­come much more food ed­u­cated, they re­ally un­der­stand what they want and they value Aus­tralian pro­duce.

“They’re quite ap­pre­cia­tive of the fact it’s grown in the con­di­tions we have – clean, pes­ti­cide- free and with a lot of love and care.”

Re­gional Flavours has opened many doors for Bro­ken Nose Vanilla, whose prod­ucts in­clude lo­cally sourced vanilla- in­fused tea and cof­fee, and are stocked by re­tail­ers through­out south­east Queens­land and more re­cently in Mel­bourne.

The cou­ple is now look­ing to di­ver­sify fur­ther to en­sure their busi­ness’ vi­a­bil­ity into the fu­ture.

“We’ve been work­ing with Trade and In­vest­ment Queens­land on niche mar­kets to Dubai and also pri­vately work­ing with some peo­ple to get into Sin­ga­pore and pos­si­bly China later this year,” Ms Ge­orge said.

“As a re­ally high- value, niche prod­uct, we prob­a­bly need to ex­plore all av­enues and not just rely on tourists and the lo­cal mar­ket.”

Pic­ture: MARK CALLEJA

FLOW­ER­ING SEA­SON: Grow­ers Fiona Ge­orge and Matt Allen of Bro­ken Nose Vanilla.

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