We were recently driving south from Melbourne to Phillip Island in Australia to watch the amazing emergence of 16,000 little penguins from the ocean at dusk. Along the highway we spotted a series of signs much like the old Burma Shave signs in the U.S., which were sequences of messages that pique your interest. These did the same, but the point of interest was a dairy farm. We were ready for a break from driving on the “wrong side” of the road and the traditions of afternoon tea in Australia are compelling.
The Caldermeade Farm and Café entry feature on the highway included a stack of milk cans atop an easily read sign. Clear directions to the parking area take visitors past fields of farm animals. A nice welcome sign at the entry trail to the café immediately made options available – we could either go straight in for tea, pet the baby cows, see the other small animals (piglets, chicks, bunnies), or wait an hour to see the cows come home and get milked in the barn. We could see families out in a farm petting area with young Holstein calves and goats and opted for tea instead, but we did note that the large milking barn had viewing windows all the way round allowing a self-guided view of the activities in the barn. We went into the café and enjoyed delicious scones, like the American biscuits you’d get with biscuits and gravy but served with berry jam and fresh clotted cream with hot coffee. Heaven. As I paid the bill, we browsed the gift shop, which had tea towels and other items with iconic black and white cows, along with a variety of the jams and honey made on the farm, local wines, and of course, a variety of stuffed toy farm animals. On the way out I was amused by the farm weather station that used a rock on a rope to monitor conditions.
This kind of interpretive farm is interesting for so many reasons. It helps city dwellers, especially children, understand where their daily milk and related products originate. The combination of good food, places to walk around and touch animals and a storyline about the farm creates a quality, complete experience. It makes you want to tell others about it. We could have stopped at the fast food shops one kilometer further and paid less for a quick snack that would be even more quickly forgotten, but we can do that any day in any place. This unique experience created a memory, embedded in all of our senses.
Farm interpretation (also known as agritourism) is not new. Winery tours with interpretation have been popular in some areas for many years. In Scotland, you’re likely to come across tours of malt whiskey distilleries. The interpretive tour of New Belgium Brewery in our hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado is excellent. And nothing beats the Bluebell Creamery tour in Brenham, Texas, especially on a hot summer’s day (a product sample is included with every tour).
Caldermeade was especially inventive in using signs along the highway at the decision point. We had no idea where we would stop along our two-hour drive, but we knew we would stop somewhere. Their clever signs invited us to stop and try their fare. And we were glad we did.
And, by the way, the penguins were amazing on Phillip Island. If you get to Melbourne, go see the penguins and have a snack at Caldermeade Farm on the way.