Dairy Rd, off 639 Sneydes Rd, Werribee
Approaching the venue for the 2011 National Vegetable Expo, a number of questions are bouncing around my brain.
Will it be a case of food, food everywhere but not a bite to eat?
Will I even be welcome?
After all, the Vegetables Victoria website announces: “The National Vegetable Expo Organizing Committee extend a warm invitation all Vegetable Growers, Nursery Operators and Industry Suppliers, to gather for this years event.”
No mention there, eh, of “members of the public”, “shoppers” or “consumers”? Let alone “nosy bloggers” …
And even if I am made welcome, will the event offer enough to hold my interest? Or will it be a dry thing of tedious technical stuff and agribusiness? Will there be personality and character, be it vegetable, human or otherwise?
Pulling off Sneydes Rd, a sign eases at least one of those concerns:
After paying my $10 entry fee and parking my car, I enter the expo proper and immediately secure a magnificent cafe latte, noticing as I do that next to the coffee stand is a hot spud outlet and, next to that, a tent in which lovely ladies are busily putting together burgers and steak sangas and the like:
When lunchtime rolls around, I will be fed.
From there, I venture around the many exhibitors.
Circled around the central marquee and food outlets are, indeed, many exhibitors of the vegetable business variety – tractors and other machinery, many different kinds of packaging, picking, irrigating and so on. There are, too, exhibits by WorkHealth and Worksafe Victoria, as well as seed and nursery outfits. There are even a few businesses spruiking an organic approach.
The main seed producer action, though, circles an adjacent paddock that holds a glorious display of row after row of magnificent vegetables.
According to the expo program, the rainy weather has resulted in a very different look to this year’s live vegie display, as opposed to the drought-affected previous event in 2009.
Just looking at the field makes my mouth water. I want to make like a rabbit.
I’m not looking too hard, but see fennel and cabbages and much, much more.
The cauliflowers are particularly alluring:
But dominating the entire spread are lettuces and other leafy vegetables – in a stupendous array of colours, shapes and sizes:
As I wander past the surrounding tent exhibits, I score a complementary serve of parmesan and broccoli soup at the Seminis stand, as provided by Ricky Holt Catering. The same folk provide me with a you-beaut black apron with a bright green photo of a broccoli floret right in the middle.
The fine soup seems only to sharpen my appetite. Maybe I’m hungry because I’ve been hanging out with about an acre and a half of salad-and-soup on the hoof, so to speak.
It’s rush hour at the burger stand by the time I get there. My burger with the lot and a can of that Coca Cola stuff set me back $10.50. The burger is typical fairground stuff – packed in a paper bag, egg, bacon, grilled onions and so on. It looks average and tastes great.
Back in the vegie patch, I strike up a conversation with Shawn Hicks, who is the SA, WA and NT manager of Fairbanks Seeds, which – according to the company’s website – was established in 1926 and “is the most experienced commercial vegetable seed company in Australia”.
While I admire his coriander, parsley and lettuce varieties, Shawn tells me the expo is an affordable and effective tool for his company.
He started preparations and planting for the expo as long ago as Christmas, yet that very afternoon – as the expo winds down – all the plants will be either harvested to be taken home or discarded.
He gets to speak with a broad range of farmers and producers in a single location in just a couple of days – sure beats individual farm visits.
From them he gets feedback about Fairbanks’ products, including the test strains. The crops with names, he explains, are already in the catalogue, while the numbered plants are on trial.
He enjoys, too, the social side of the event, including the expo dinner he’d attended the previous night.
“It’s good to get off the farm,” he says. “A lot of farmers don’t.”
He also likes the idea of more folks such as myself attending the expo.
“After all, you’re the consumer,” he says.
With a sub-editing night shift starting about an hour, it’s time to go.
I leave wishing I’d allowed more time to hang with these friendly people and find out more about how they do what they do.
May be next time – which will be in 2013.
The Vegetables Victoria website is here.