This article is sponsored by Rabobank
WHEN there's a waiting list of 150 people to visit your farm open day, you must be doing something right.
So it is for Kalfresh, Queensland's largest carrot producer based in Kalbar, which hosted its Carrot Day in June.
That's right – an entire day devoted to the humble carrot.
While marketers and nutritionists mull over ways to get Australians more interested in vegetable consumption, Kalfresh has managed to create a buzz around its primary vegetable – a buzz that saw some 800 people flock to the farm, one hour west of Brisbane, to pick carrots.
Apart from plucking fresh vegetables straight from the ground, visitors sat on tractors, tasted carrot-related products (the carrot bread proved particularly popular this year), spoke to farmers and inspected the technology involved in a modern processing facility.
The annual event, now in its sixth year, was part of a bigger picture for Kalfresh, a company which has garnered a reputation for thinking outside the box when it comes to connecting consumers to its primary product.
Last month it released a carrot vodka.
It also made headlines in 2015 for its carrot beer, as well as turning heads for its Just Veg range of pre-packaged carrot sticks, carrot coins and carrot shred, all of which made use of surplus and misshaped products.
From a family-owned company with five staff started by Barry and Robert Hinrichsen in 1992, Kalfresh has exploded to a multi-million dollar produce business with more than 1214 hectares (3000 acres) under crop in five growing regions.
Part of its farming philosophy is to remain "a company run by growers for growers".
The company supplies direct to customers and through the central market system. Key lines include carrots, green beans, onions, pumpkins and pre-prepared vegetables.
It times its plantings to ensure consistent supply and its synchronised crop planning allows the company to harvest by age.
It follows a one-in-four-year crop rotation, ensuring the health and viability of the soil.
In-house engineers consulted world-leading vegetable product line manufacturers to create the on-site washing, grading and packing facility.
Kalfresh has a long history of exporting carrots and green beans to customers in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East.
While the business's expansion is impressive, it's the increasing importance being placed on connecting with customers that Kalfresh customer focus team member, Alice Gorman, sees as building for the future.
Ms Gorman openly admits she is "from the city" and knew nothing about farming before meeting her future husband, carrot grower and Kalfresh part-owner, Richard Gorman.
"The more I learned the more I realised farmers were often misunderstood and under-appreciated by city consumers," she said.
"Often the only time they were mentioned in mainstream news or conversations was if there had been a severe weather event and prices were high.
"Then a friend of mine (also from the city) visited with her kids. We went out to the carrot paddock to dig some carrots.
"All of the kids - mine included - had a ball. I wondered if we should do carrot picking on a bigger scale.
"We gave it a go and attracted about 50 people. Next year 100 and then it’s grown from there.
"We have a team of about 60 staff and volunteers who work together to make the day runs smoothly."
Carrot Day is more than just good branding for Kalfresh.
It's about fun, farming and food, plus education in an engaging way, according to Ms Gorman.
"Everyone involved in the carrot day gets a real buzz out of the event and the interaction with customers," she said.
"We absolutely love seeing children and adults out in the paddock getting muddy picking carrots.
"We hear from parents after the event who tell us their children are more willing to eat their carrots after the visit.
"Others send us photos of the carrots they’ve grown with the seed we give them on the day.
"Others send us pics of the carrot soup/cake/break etcetera they make with all the carrots they pick.
"The connections we make and relationships we form are invaluable and powerful."
SHARING A MESSAGE
Creating those connections is about delivering agriculture's story to the uninitiated.
"Ultimately if you don’t tell your story and explain who you are, what you do and how you do it then your customers will have no understanding and won’t value the produce you grow," Ms Gorman said.
"We hope that if Australian shoppers have an affinity and real connection with farmers they will support us at the register."
The company's ability to engage with the community is echoed in its Facebook page, which is awash with photos and regular updates about what's happening on the farm.
In terms of production, Kalfresh is thinking behind their current holdings.
It has formed a joint venture with the Jurgens family in Bowen to supply organic in-conversion tomatoes and vegetables to its customers.
This article is sponsored by Rabobank.