DISABLED workers in Orange are being offered new opportunities after the Huntley Berry Farm expanded its operations and installed a commercial kitchen to produce a wide range of gourmet berry products.
The farm, at Huntley near Orange, is owned by the Orange Community Training and Education Centre (OCTEC) and has been in a production hiatus during winter while the facility was built.
Manager Dave Walker said the new arm of the business takes the operation to another level.
“It is time for us to find a way on the farm to stand on our own two feet,” he said.
“The reason we have had to do this is that all disability enterprises now have to become social enterprises as well,” he said.
Mr Walker said while OCTEC is maintaining the traditional aspects of production at the farm, where visitors are invited to pick their own berries or they are picked by workers, the new enterprise will provide important employment opportunities for the 17 workers currently employed at the farm.
“This will be meaninful work and with the proposed introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme we will have to encourage people with disabilities to move out into open employment,” Mr Walker said.
Employees will also have the opportunity to undertake accredited hospitality courses in conjunction with the start of production in the kitchen.
Mr Walker says the expansion to the Huntley Berry Farm has come entirely from funds generated on the farm.
“We did apply for a government grant but unfortunately we were rejected, so OCTEC went ahead and funded this project itself,” he said.
During winter the farm has undergone other changes, with different berry varieties planted and thousands of strawberries planted.
“We have had to pull some of our older plants out and the new plantings will be ready for harvesting in 2014 but overall our berry production is expanding,” Mr Walker said.
The new commercial operation at the Huntley Berry Farm will produce traditional and gourment jams, cordials, sauces and iceblocks on a larger scale, with the cafe at the farm an attraction for visitors.
The Huntley Berry Farm is open for visitors between 9am and 4pm on weekdays and 10am and 3pm on weekends.