Nestled high in Gippsland's Strzelecki Ranges, the rambling orchards of Sunny Creek Organic Berry Farm use environmentally sustainable practices to yield a wide assortment of fruit and berries.
Over 35 years, Phil Rowe and Cathie Taylor have cultivated over a hundred varieties of berries (40 kinds of raspberries alone, in colours of red, black, golden, pink and purple) and heritage collections of apples, chestnuts and other assorted fruit and nut trees have been nurtured and flourished in 10 hectares of sprawling orchards and native forest.
Phil and Cathie's environmental philosophy is evident in the avenues of chestnut trees, apples and hazelnuts which are planted with an understory of currant bushes and interspersed with closely planted rows of berries; all maximise space utilization and reducing maintenance according to permacultural principles. Weeds are controlled by mulching and mowing, rather than hoeing, giving the orchard its garden-like setting. Birds join the tree frogs as natural pest controllers, but the fruit is also netted in season to keep their minds on the insects!
As well as welcoming visitors for farm gate sales, trays of berries and other fresh produce are sold through Melbourne Wholesale Market. Distribution to metropolitan and interstate markets also happens through our wholesale agent.
Sunny Creek Organic Fruit and Berry Farm has been proudly certified organic since 1988.
Sunny Creek Organic Berry Farm was established over 35 years ago, when Phil and Cathie purchased a small hobby farm in the Gippsland hills in 1980.
The business and the family have both grown up considerably since the early days and over the years Sunny Creek Organic Berry Farm has evolved into a thriving family business, which sees the family return home each year for berry season in the belief that
'many hands make light work'.
Phil shares farm management with Cathie, but is more strongly focused on non-harvest period work schedules, including inputs, planning and planting, and annual maintenance of plants, machines and structures, as well as dispatch of fresh fruit. Harvest management is more evenly split. Responsibilities also include food safety supervision, and general auditing for food quality and organic certification requirements.
Phil has exercised his lifelong passion for collecting, for gardening and for experimentation, through a very hands-on operation of a small but incredibly diverse mixed orchard and berry garden. Variety collections in Rubus and Ribes include raspberries, blackberries, currants and gooseberries; also heritage apples, nuts, and citrus. An outcome of all that time spent planning, planting, weeding, weaving, picking, packing and observing has been a desire to communicate a lot of that learning to others.
So, in parallel to the farm, Phil has been involved in horticulture organisations, as a member, and as a major contributor particularly for the Rubus (raspberry and blackberry) industry body (ARBA), and the organic certification area (NASAA/NCO). Indeed, these organisational roles have developed to the extent that it sometimes feels as if the farm is the part-time interest rather than the core activity.
Put it down to chronic volunteerism combined with tendencies to be overly ambitious!
Cathie takes care of summer harvest management, from scheduling pickers to packing for fresh market or for the freezer, and direct sales of jams, picked fruit, or the pick-your-own harvests of farm visitors.
While the focus in the peak fresh berry season is to stock up the freezer, at other times, Cathie demonstrates her artisan skills in processing those frozen assets into endless small batch runs of a wide varietal range of jams and sauces.
Cathie is also responsible for accounts for the business. Beyond those part-time, or seasonal diversions, being an enthusiastic gardener, and full-time primary teacher ensure perpetual busyness.
Growing up on the farm, when the call of 'berry season' came in early December each year, it was always all hands on deck and over the last 35 years Sunny Creek has evolved into a true family business. Even today if you visit the farm over berry season you will most likely see Shelley, Nyssa and James back on the farm helping out.
In addition to the 'call of berry season' Shelley drives the marketing and promotion for the business and looks after the management of the website. James takes care of all the farm's IT requirements and is the programmer behind the Sunny Creek Organic website.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing Organic when it comes to obtaining fresh or frozen berries, or jams and preserves which are all made onsite on the farm. Reasons such as flavour, quality, variety, discovery, and for farm gate visitors, a wonderful garden setting. We aim to provide all these, and it also happens that we do it all organically. We were doing things that way before organic certification became available, and took it up early in 1988 to enable retailers and their customers to be assured of our commitment.
A good decision whichever way you look at it.
For you, there will be a combination of desires - to avoid chemical residues, and artificial ingredients; to lessen the impact of your food production on the environment, including sourcing direct from the producer; and to get better nutritionally balanced foods, with varieties that are flavourful rather than pretenders, varieties that may not be readily found in mass markets. You may want to avoid GMO foods, and hopefully you will want to support the Organic farming ethic, of protection of soils and the biodiversity of our food-chain, rather than short-term exploitation and degradation. The next best thing to growing your own is to harvest your own, or to do that some of the time. With our farm gate open to visitors during berry season, we can help you in your quest to harvest your own.
We approach all these things both as consumers, and as stewards of our piece of land. We live amongst our crops and eat our produce. Selfishly, I don't want to risk my own health by unnecessary use of agricultural chemicals. I have applied to our production the philosophy, 'If you don't need to, you ought not to'. So we try not to use 'stuff'. There are precious few others who know what over 30 years horticulture farming without any use of herbicides really means.
If the locusts stay away, I can continue to also manage to produce fruit without insecticides of any kind. Just think Joni Mitchell's 'Big Yellow Taxi'. When it comes to fertiliser, we rate Carbon as numero uno. We mulch, we compost, we mow, we recycle - the fancy buzzword is carbon sequestration. Half of our farm is regenerated forest, with a substantial wildlife presence. Only an economist would call it unproductive land. In fact the shelter it provides is the reason the berries are here! We have never aimed to move on to fresh land, seeing sustainability at the soil, farm and business level to be reinforced by applying it to one site.
When we make jams, we do so with minimal manipulation in small batches, employing the necessary care and attention that ensures the highest quality and freshest flavour. We grow some varieties just because they make the best jams. Especially in the hands of a great cook!
Why is certification important?
Certification provides a mechanism for assurance that we are following internationally agreed and recognised, Australian-accredited Organic production and processing Standards.
We have been certified Organic by NASAA since 1988. NASAA is an independently accredited certification body, one of several in Australia, which through annual inspection and auditing provide the strongest possible basis for maintaining organic quality from farm to plate.
(For details of certification, download the below pdf file - NASAA Organic certification program assurance, or visit the website www.nasaa.com.au)
Sunny Creek Organic Berry Farm