Location, location, location! We hear it frequently from real estate agents. It also applies to agri-tourism. Trevor & Melissa Vanin are taking advantage of this important principle with their growing farm gate business.
‘Fielderberry Farm’ at Cockatoo is a newly established berry enterprise – pick your own berries being the focus. The property, with family connections going back a century, is in the Dandenong Ranges, adjacent to the Puffing Billy railway line, thus easily accessible from Cockatoo or Gembrook. With the streams of weekend and midweek tourists to the area, the location is promising indeed.
Melissa and Trevor have ‘re-purposed’ seventy eight bush and grazing acres into a tourism/farming business. Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries have been planted on former grazing land adjacent to the forest. The berries are grown mainly in trellised rows, with varieties chosen for their picking-friendly plants. That is, the blackberries are all imported hybrids which bear no vicious thorns and which tempt with huge berries. As for how their flavour compares with the wild blackberry which plagues many land holders the WOF members had different opinions.
Melissa explained that there is considerable effort being put by plant specialists into cultivars of berry varieties, raspberries and blueberries also undergoing refinement with an aim to achieve longer growing seasons and heavier crops.
The plants they selected have been carefully identified to maximize cropping over as long a season as possible. Nevertheless, at this stage the berry season in southern Australia tends to be between November and March. Some product is also sold to local restaurants, jams are made and sold off the farm. Trevor has built a ‘gypsy van’ as a mobile stall to take their crop to markets.
The couple has big ideas to include an eatery and accommodation on site. With these proposals come many, inevitable delays, permits, health regulations and insurance requirements. Already there are the farming challenges to meet – soil alkalinity, bird plagues, pruning, weeding and pest animals. Seeing the energy and commitment displayed by Melissa, they should both succeed.