Hawkesbury Harvest members celebrate 20 years of Hawkesbury Farm Gate Trail

It wasn't the bellbirds, but the cicadas that could be heard as a small crowd gathered at weddings and functions venue Loxley on Bellbird Hill - based at Kurrajong Hills - to celebrate 20 years of the Hawkesbury Harvest and Farm Gate Trail.

Hosted by Loxley owner Paul Maher, who is celebrating 50 years as a businessman this year, the group was treated to a delicious three-course lunch and used the opportunity not only to celebrate the role Hawkesbury Harvest has played in promoting agriculture over the years, but also to share their stories as Hawkesbury locals and business-owners.

Celebrating agritourism: A handful of the founding members of the Hawkesbury Harvest and Farm Gate Trail gather at Loxley on Bellbird Hill to celebrate 20 years of the Harvest. Picture: Sarah Falson

Celebrating agritourism: A handful of the founding members of the Hawkesbury Harvest and Farm Gate Trail gather at Loxley on Bellbird Hill to celebrate 20 years of the Harvest. Picture: Sarah Falson

"I was born on a farm - that's where my passion for this area comes from," Mr Maher said.

"My family was farming in Australia 130 years ago and whenever I think I have it tough, I think about them.

"Thank you to everyone here who has made an impact in so many people's lives. It's been a tough journey for all of us with the fires, flood and now the pandemic, but together we're going to come out of Covid."

John Maguire of Enniskillen Orchard at Grose Vale said the Hawkesbury Harvest only started with a few people, and quickly grew to around 50 producers banding together to preserve agriculture in the Hawkesbury.

"Development started down Windsor Road and we thought, we're going to be next. So we started the Harvest Trail with 12 [companies] and we kicked it off from there," Mr Maguire said.

Karen Lebsanft, co-founder and CEO of Kurrajong Kitchen - which manufactures lavosh flatbread at South Windsor - said her company found a gap in the market when, back in 1990, people were entertaining with Jatz and Carr's crackers.

"Now we produce 750,000 pieces a day," Mrs Lebsanft said, adding that lavosh is now sold all around Australia and on major airlines.

Carole Maher, a well-known milliner in the area who used to own a lavender farm with her husband David, passed around a copy of the first Farm Gate Trail map which was produced in 2000. Though hundreds of local producers and suppliers have come and gone from the map over the past two decades, a clutch of businesses still operating in the Hawkesbury appeared on the first map including Mr Maguire's Enniskillen Orchard, Tizzana Winery at Ebenezer, and Willowbrae Chevre Cheese Farm at Wilberforce.

Lee Etherington, owner and founder of Wild Hibiscus Flower Company and Kurrajong Australian Native Foods, told the story of how he came to farm 80 acres with 1500 finger limes at Kurrajong Heights, exporting to 57 countries, with factories in Malaysia and Thailand. Mr Etherington shared a taste of his exclusive finger lime gin, which hits the market this week and took four years to perfect.

Much-loved and missed Hawkesbury Harvest secretary Alan Eagle who passed away four years ago was represented at the event by his wife Sharon who said Mr Eagle, who helped set-up the Farm Gate Trail, had "lived Hawkesbury Harvest - he absolutely loved it".

"Alan used to say: Hawkesbury is the best place in space," Mrs Eagle said.

David Mason, the foundation chair of Hawkesbury Harvest and a retired urban agriculture leader at NSW Department of Primary Industries, spoke of the good work his wife Gail Knox - former Hawkesbury Gazette journalist - did to support the Harvest in its infancy.

"She copped a lot of flack, but she stood her ground," Mr Mason said.

"There was such passion among so many people, and Hawkesbury Harvest, a not-for-profit organisation - when so many businesses fail within the first six-months-to-a-year - remained."

Hawkesbury Harvest was set-up in 2000 as a raw agritourism product and helped put Hawkesbury on the agritourism map. The Hawkesbury agriculture industry has evolved over the years, and now includes as many niche, high-value-added players as traditional agricultural businesses.