For Food’s Sake Summit tours: SIFT opening and Melville Park farm

The For Food’s Sake Summit day tours made for a great day out – exciting, informative, convivial and relaxed, with pit stops for delicious locally-produced food and drink.

Opening of FIPWA’s SIFT facility

On the morning of Friday 23 February, two busloads of Summit participants departed Perth Exhibition & Convention Centre for Stake Hill, near Mandurah in WA’s Peel region, site of the new Food Innovation Precinct Western Australia. FIPWA is a part of the region’s bold push to become an agrifood innovation and value-adding hub for Peel and surrounding regions, advantaged by proximity to Perth’s million-plus consumers and to lucrative export markets via the busy port of Fremantle.

Gathering at the Innovation hub and onsite cafe, guests enjoyed a brunch buffet with conversation on the side before making the short walk to the recently-fitted-out Sustainable Innovative Food Technologies (SIFT) centre’s production facility. Here, invited guests listened on as VIPs including WA’s Minister for Agriculture The Hon. Jackie Jarvis MLC; FFS Chair Fiona Simson; and Murdoch University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation, Professor Peter Eastwood, lauded the immense collaborative effort from three tiers of government, Murdoch University and Future Food Systems that had supported the construction, fitout and establishment phase of the now-operational $13.6m facility.

Guests in attendance included the FFS executive team, Program Leads, and Board members; local representative Robyn Clarke, MLA; a contingent from Murdoch University’s Food Futures Institute and Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC); the Food & Agribusiness Network (FAN) CEO Nicole McNaughton; Silverplace boss Adam Wilson; MyPlantCo founder-CEO Mei Yong; Melville Park‘s David Doepel, and many more.

A sumptuous spread of fresh WA produce and healthy juices, laid out on stainless steel benches beneath the shining stainless-steel bulk of commercial-scale food manufacturing equipment, was a tantalising showcase of the future of food in Peel.

The Hon. Jackie Jarvis, WA Minister for Agriculture (L) and Robyn Clarke, MLA (R), check out one of the food-manufacturing machines at SIFT. Image courtesy of Murdoch University Media

The assembled VIPs delivered short addresses before the Minister undertook the ceremonial ‘flipping on the switch’ on the HPP equipment.

Exiting SIFT HQ via the test kitchens, we passed the vast open-sided corrugated-iron-clad shed of FIPWA neighbour Spinifex Brewing Co, where those who asked were given a whistlestop ‘tour’ of operations.

A locavore lunch: Brugan Brewery

Summit guests not returning to Perth to catch flights back ‘over east’ stopped off at recently opened gastro-pub Brugan Brewery for a convivial pub lunch en route to Melville Park, an hour or so’s drive south of FIPWA.

It’s a great example of clever regional value-adding by a husband-wife team from Melbourne who also run the onsite brewery.

Brugan collaborates with local suppliers including FFS partner Melville Park farm to value-add to regional produce – including heirloom tomatoes, fresh corn and handmade soft cheeses.

Tour guests listen on as David Doepel talks about Melville Park’s market garden. Credit: Future Food Systems

Melville Park farm, Brunswick

At Melville Park in Brunswick, a quarter-hour drive south, David Doepel and wife Barbara Connell grow heirloom vegetables, fruit and herbs; turn local milk into artisanal cheeses in a converted heritage dairy, and will soon create their own spirits.

A short walk through the farm’s market garden, past the Murdoch University project team’s experimental vegie plots; farmgate shop; cheese-making room; and a hand-reared, black-faced sheep named Wobble brings us to a jarrah-block-floored, high-raftered heritage brick barn. This will become the barrel-ageing room for Melville Park’s soon-to-be-established small-batch distillery, which will produce Calvados-style apple brandy, whiskey and a traditional vodka from David and Barbara’s farm-grown sugar beets and potatoes.

FFS-supported PhD student Henry Obiazikwor from Murdoch University talks about his research trials at Melville Park farm. Credit: Future Food Systems

Today, it’s a refuge from the heat and in its cool interior, we feast on fresh melon and home-made shortbread before assembling outside in the afternoon breeze (thanks, ‘Fremantle Doctor’!) while members of the ‘Novel crop microbiome technology’ project team talk about their work investigating the root, shoot and leaf microbiomes of three popular horticulture crops: avocado, potato and tomato. The researcher presentations are followed by questions from the floor that include some serious advice from FFS Program lead Dist. Prof. David Tissue, Director of the Hawkesbury Institute of the Environment (HIE) at Western Sydney University, as to tweaks that could improve the students’ experimental design and methodology; and a short explanation of the new water filtration system that was recently installed beside the barn.

Photo ops with resident farm dog Mack and a stop-in at the farmhouse follow before the journey back to base.

It will be great to hear how the ‘Novel crop microbiome tech’ project team gets on in coming years, and to watch Melville Park continue to implement innovative, sustainable value-adding solutions on-farm.

Read more about the For Food’s Sake Summit 2024 here.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to SIFT and FIPWA, including Dr Tash Teakle and Stuart Johnston; to those from Murdoch University who helped establish the university’s food science education and training facility within the new facility; to David Doepel and Barbara Connell at Melville Park, and the team from Brugar Brewery; as well as to our participants, staff and everyone who participated in the FFS-hosted tours.

Lead image: Exterior of the newly opened Sustainable Innovative Food Technology (SIFT) facility at FIPWA. Image courtesy of Murdoch University media