Weather delays blueberry season, but organically grown fruit and sustainability continue to drive sales
A later-than-expected season for a leading organic Victorian blueberry farm has meant the fruit is available in May.
Moondarra Blueberries is based around two hours east of Melbourne, and business manager Kate Prezioso explained that February is usually the peak month for blueberries, but this year it was delayed.
“We started about three weeks late,” he said. “In fact, we had collectors here in early January with nothing to collect. In recent years, we've been known to hit June, but usually late March and early April is the limit for us. We are going longer this year. All this has been due to the weather; last year there was a lack of sun and it was a very cold run-up, the fruit just wasn't ready. We usually expect our fruit to ripen just before Christmas, and then we normally start picking in early January when workers are available, which means we often risk overripe fruit, but this year it takes us at least two weeks before we reach full production.”
Kate's father, Mal Deveson, started the farm over 40 years ago, planting some of the first blueberry varieties released in Australia, and it has remained a family business ever since with Kate, her brother, Joel, running the farm. main farm and business operations. . In the late 1980s, the farm began to change the farming process to organic and soon after received official certification from Australia's National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA).
“It's a family-owned and run business,” Prezioso said. “We've had demand (for our organic fruit) all along, but it's definitely growing. I think organic is a big driver for us to have the market that we have and the loyalty of our customers. The main thing we are known for is our quality, and we don't like to depend on that reputation. We know that there is always someone behind us trying to do better, but our premium fruit allows us to have the market share that we do. But the movement is happening, it's a different environment than it was 10 years ago, when it comes to sustainable business practices, sustainable agriculture and regenerative agriculture. We are no longer the 'hippies': people want to do what we have always been. doing."
As well as planting some of the first varieties to arrive in Australia, the family also grows many of the publicly available heritage varieties from around the world on what they have dubbed their 'Museum Block'. Moondarra has also developed a few varieties, so there are around 30 different ones to choose from in a season, ripening at different times.
“Our prices are on the higher end,” Prezioso said. “We do a delivery tour in Melbourne and Victoria that we manage ourselves. We used to go through the wholesale market about 15 years ago, but we were struggling because our fruit was being used as a political pawn within the market. We got a little frustrated with that process and went straight. We have a loyal and passionate customer base in Victoria which is why we go direct to quality shops, greengrocers, restaurants and cafes. We also do three or four farmers' markets in Melbourne, to sell directly to consumers. This method is also a good way to get good feedback which then helps us develop strategies and tailor to what the consumer needs or wants.”
In 2019, Moondarra Blueberries switched from single-use plastics to a home compostable basket for their fresh blueberries, which Ms Prezioso says has been one of the biggest changes for the business and has helped maintain a point of sale. difference in the market.
“Our customer was already an organic consumer and they kept pushing and pushing us to move away from single-use plastics because they didn't feel it aligned with what they wanted to buy. We try to reach out to local basket and container manufacturers to help. we innovated a solution, but because we are quite small, they were not very interested in helping us since we would not have done their minimum orders. But at an AUSPACK expo, we came across Proseal who had connections to a New Zealand family. -the owned company, Punchbowl Packaging, who worked with us. At that time they were making fiber bases with recyclable heat-sealed film and were just beginning to investigate home compostable film. We wanted to have the complete sustainable solution, the complete journey, by making it 100% certified home compostable, and they were very happy to support our vision and work with us.”
Moondarra Blueberries was chosen as the winner of the Grown category of the Eat Easy Awards 2021, for the quality of its fruit and its innovative packaging. The company has also recently built its own apiary and maintains bees that help pollinate blueberries and produce honey from wild forage on the 160-acre farm that allows for another avenue of sale. The main goal this year is to find a sustainable packaging solution for their frozen products and to complete a solar and battery system to help power their packaging facilities and irrigation systems.
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