Everyone’s beloved blueberry is now fresh in season and we can look forward to feasting on this delicious, nutritious, tiny blue gem.
Otto and Lynette Saeck and their family operate Blueberry Fields, a 100 acre orchard in Brooklet and they sell their produce exclusively through local farmers’ markets.
Usually the blueberry season runs from June through to February however we’ve had such a wet autumn and wet and cold winter the blueberries are a month behind. You can’t harvest blueberries when the fruit is wet, so in the Shire we have to be a bit flexible with our cravings for freshly harvested blueberries.
The Saeck’s farm Rabbiteye and Southern Highbush varieties, perfect for our sub-tropical climate. They pick the fruit the day before the market and pack those pert bluish baubles into biodegradable punnets.
Otto has been farming for 30 years and he made the decision to sell directly to farmers’ markets 20 years ago.
‘When I started off the only contact I had with consumers was through an intermediary,’ he says.
‘The wholesalers were not concerned about production systems, the environment or the way you treat your staff – their only motivation was profit’.
‘I find it very rewarding selling directly through the markets. I have very loyal customers, we talk about the fruit and I take their feedback on board when farming, it is a two-way street’.
When discussing the inconsistency in the pricing of blueberries in supermarkets Otto explains, ‘If you are paying $2 a punnet for blueberries then someone is being taken advantage of. That price makes no sense and is not sustainable.’
‘During the process, everyone takes their little bit, and at $2 a punnet either the worker is losing wages, or the farmer is losing superannuation – but someone is missing out.’
You will usually find Otto’s son, Jasch, selling the berries at the farmers’ market. ‘He is very enthusiastic about coming on board and passionate about keeping the land in a healthy state,’ says Otto.
You can grow blueberries under plastic, or hydroponically to avoid the weather conditions and maximise the fruit each season, however Otto has rejected these methods. At Blueberry Fields the fruit is grown sustainably, in living soil, which has more fungus and bacteria so the fruit picks up more flavour.
When looking for the perfect berry Otto advises to look for plump, fresh berries with a nice waxy bloom. And of course – note their taste!
Blueberry Fields are at New Brighton Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Mullumbimby Farmers Market on Fridays, from 7–11am.