HAMPTON FLAVOUR: Robert and Sue Groom, of Hampton Blue, sharing their product at last year's Hampton Food and Arts Festival.
HAMPTON FLAVOUR: Robert and Sue Groom, of Hampton Blue, sharing their product at last year's Hampton Food and Arts Festival.

Taste of glorious country flavours at festival

HAMPTON Blue was one of the first commercial producers of blueberries in Australia, starting back in 1986 when Australians really weren't too sure what to do with them.

Back then they would sell at markets and advertise on community radio in Brisbane to appeal to European listeners who would come out to the farm armed with buckets to pick their own fruit.

Today, owner Sue Groom said the family operation has about 13,000 blueberry plants as well as raspberries across 20 acres (8.1ha), and sells fresh and frozen fruit, plants, jams, sauces and vinegars commercially.

It is just one of the producers featured in this year's Hampton Festival, celebrating all things High Country from May 17-19.

Festival organiser Wendy Allen said the three-day program, culminating in the Hampton Food and Arts Festival on Sunday, again had a number of new features along with the favourites to keep it as fresh as the produce, art and music it promotes.

To complement the annual art exhibition, they are "bringing the beach to Hampton", with a sand sculpture artist creating a huge piece that "really depicts the area" and holding workshops.

When it comes to music, there are six talented young local musicians busking around the grounds this year as well as the main stage entertainment, including the home-grown Hobsons.

"It's always a lovely atmosphere, relaxing under the gum trees and enjoying food, wine, beer and music away from the hustle and bustle," Wendy said.

The Growers on the Green precinct is a very special focus, allowing visitors to see and taste local produce such as blueberries, avocados, persimmons, olives, honey, cheese and more, and speak to the people who produce them.

The Grooms certainly have a story to tell, with Sue a former executive secretary and husband Rob, a lecturer in agronomy, having decided back in 1982 that they wanted to "actually grow something" themselves.

Having found what they believed to be the perfect property, and after an initial unsuccessful foray into kiwi fruit, they decided on blueberries at the recommendation of a friend.

Involving their sons, then just 10 and 12, in the planting made it a real family affair from the start.

One of their boys, Andrew and wife Kirsty, now have their own kids about the same age, and have recently purchased a property nearby, about 20 acres of which will also be dedicated to blueberries.

But despite the passing years, Sue said she and Rob, now both in their 70s, had never tired of the taste of their produce.

"We love eating them," Sue said.

"It's lovely walking out into the orchard and having breakfast, or eating them as we go when we grade them."

The secret to Hampton Blue's unique flavour, she said, was the soil, with customers coming back to them repeatedly for the quality and full taste over supermarket offerings.

While they chose never to use chemical sprays, for the past nine years Hampton Blue has been fully certified organic.

With health in mind, Sue also ensures their value-added products, including jams, a blueberry desert sauce (which you can try at the festival in prepared Lick! Icecream tubs), the savoury Moroccan blueberry sauce and the low-acid raspberry vinegar all use a minimum of sugar.

Sue is Hampton Festival secretary and has been involved with the event for 16 of its 17 years, when it began as one of the first festivals of its kind.

"I look forward to it, but it does take a really big effort from the community," she said.

About 4000 people attended across the three days last year, with the same expected this year.

That includes Friday's Autumn Feast in the Woods and Saturday's A Taste of the Region Lunch, which continues into Sunday's full-day festival.

For more information, go to hamptonfestival.com or phone (07) 4697 9066. For Hampton Blue information, go to hamptonblue.com.au.

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