David Doepel talks about vision as new chair of Peel Development Commission

OPPORTUNITIES: David Doepel (left) says Peel growers would not be competing on price but on their uniqueness and the story they tell. Photo: Supplied.
OPPORTUNITIES: David Doepel (left) says Peel growers would not be competing on price but on their uniqueness and the story they tell. Photo: Supplied.

Food is the future of the Peel, according to the new chair of the Peel Development Commission.

David Doepel likes to think the region will be the next in the world to marry innovation, academia and culinary art.

"If it's done right and delivered world class, it can transform whole communities," said Mr Doepel, who replaces outgoing chairperson Paddi Creevey.

"It can lift the game of everything right across the region."

FOOD FOR THE FUTURE: David Doepel says there is 'a whole lot of money on the table' and opportunities galore for small businesses. Photo: Supplied.

FOOD FOR THE FUTURE: David Doepel says there is 'a whole lot of money on the table' and opportunities galore for small businesses. Photo: Supplied.

He likes to paint a mind picture of a small town in upstate New York called Poughkeepsie, home to one of the famed universities that teaches culinary arts. People would leave New York City - effectively the culinary capital of the world - and drive to this town because of how the presence of the university had transformed the area.

"It energised agriculture, got people caring about food, what they grew and how they consumed it," he said.

"While it took close to three quarters of a century to achieve, Mr Doepel's words for the Peel are "why not?"

Thanks to the WA Food Innovation Precinct and Food Technology Facility, there was opportunity in the Peel both for big business and for small mum and dad businesses.

"COVID has...made us focus more on the important things - food, family, meals together, there's been a definite change, whether that's permanent or whether we'll go back to our super busy lives, I think we've had a chance to be reminded."

"COVID has helped us appreciate local, travelling local, buying local, and made us focus more on the important things - food, family, meals together, there's been a definite change, whether that's permanent or whether we'll go back to our super busy lives, I think we've had a chance to be reminded," he said.

He said there was "money on the table and a lot of it" and opportunities galore for small businesses to take advantage of a world class facility in the region.

"For example those with a small amount of acreage already growing something could be thinking, how do you get involved in adding that next layer of value to what you produce - I think the sky is the limit," he said.

There was room to "be more creative" and "think bigger" than "a fancy product at a farmer's market or getting stocked at a few IGAs", he said.

"Once upon a time everyone knew how to transform what they grew - I think we have an opportunity to rediscover that and be part of a very modern supply chain."

He said the state investment in upgrading culinary opportunities at Mandurah TAFE was also promising for the region.

"Food and tourism go together - understanding where food comes from and why you want to be in a place - that's very exciting for the region," he said.

For growers who were put off by competing with cheap imported products, there were new opportunities.

"You're not competing on price now but on your uniqueness, the story you tell and the love you put into what you're making," he said.

"There is a myriad of opportunities including rediscovery of ingredients and how they are used."

Foods currently trending were those that were "free from" and consumers wanting to know where their food came from, bespoke items and items not mass produced.

OPPORTUNITIES: David Doepel (left).

OPPORTUNITIES: David Doepel (left).

"So much can flow from that if you have the right ingredients...excuse the pun," he laughed.

Will be pent up demand

Aside from food, Mr Doepel said tourism was the other sector filled with opportunities.

"Our data shows it's been a very complicated 18 months - we've captured a whole lot of people from Perth but no international tourism, which has had a really significant impact on the Peel," he said.

When international tourists return, there would be pent up demand and therefore an influx of visitors, Mr Doepel predicts.

"The environmental values of the region are some of the best selling points - whether you're on the coast and around the inlet or more inland as far as Dwellingup and Jarrahdale for their trails and the great way that Pinjarra is making some very good decisions about its history, architecture and activation of that area."

Big shoes to fill

In terms of challenges, Mr Doepel said water supply would be the biggest threat.

Another was social housing, an issue close to the heart of his predecessor, Ms Creevey.

Ms Creevey is a passionate advocate for the region and a familiar face after 20 years of serving as the Mandurah mayor.

Mr Doepel has been on the Commission board since January 2020 just as COVID was starting.

"I'm hoping now we can focus more on the future, rather than on the immediate," he said.

He brings a wealth of knowledge through his work with Murdoch University and the Future Food Systems CRC, with more than 30 years of experience on innovation in industry, academia and government.

Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan made the appointment, saying Mr Doepel would continue to drive the regional development agenda with a focus on industry collaboration, food science and innovation and local content.

David Doepel and Paddi Creevey.

David Doepel and Paddi Creevey.

She said he had played an important role in securing the WA Food Innovation Precinct and Food Technology Facility, set to be major job creators in the region.

"Our Government greatly appreciates the leadership shown by outgoing chair Paddi Creevey and her dedicated service to the board.

"Paddi has been a respected and much-loved champion of the Peel for decades, and we all wish her well for the future."

The state government has also reappointed Michelle Sidebottom as a community representative on the board for a further three-year term.

Ms Sidebottom works within the tourism industry running her own project management, facility management and consultancy company.