News

Berry business growing in Seymour

By Alana Christensen

When you think of a blueberry farm, an off-the-grid, sustainably-powered operation isn’t usually what springs to mind.

Yet for Blue Tongue Berries owners Cynthia Lim and Nick Bray, that’s exactly what they’ve created at their Seymour property.

Having originally purchased the property more than 18 years ago, the lack of a connection to the power grid soon became an opportunity for the pair.

‘‘We were initially going to connect it to power but then we got a quote that was double what we initially thought ... so that made solar power pretty attractive,’’ Ms Lim said.

Both wind and solar power now work to run their 8ha property, which Ms Lim said had seen them become known as a ‘‘hybrid house’’.

‘‘We’ve got power stored in batteries. It’s fully running our business,’’ she said.

With the help of a Victorian Government grant, announced by Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes on Friday, Ms Lim and Mr Bray have been able to turn another element of their farm solar — their water pump.

The couple previously used a petrol pump to extract water from a dam, and Ms Lim said it was another step closer to making the business completely sustainable.

‘‘It just means there’s one less outside fuel source.’’

Although not the ideal location for growing blueberries — the climate is a little too warm, according to Ms Lim — she said they had been able to consistently grow some high quality organic produce.

‘‘Blueberries have made it through some tough times; they’re as hardy as grapes I say,’’ she said.

The low rainfall and warm conditions have had an effect on yield this year, with production down about half the normal 500kg to 600kg harvest.

‘‘But that just challenges us to look for value-add prospects,’’ Ms Lim said.

With a cafe on site, a lot of Blue Tongue’s produce will be sold in-house, with Ms Lim and Mr Bray also attending farmers’ markets in the region.

‘‘Nothing goes to waste. We use seconds to make jam, or think of ways to incorporate them into ice-cream or crepes; we’re always just looking for ways to use frozen blueberries when the season’s over,’’ Ms Lim said.

Blue Tongue Berries is one of 29 successful applicants to share in more than $130000 in the first round of grants to help artisan producers and food businesses invest in the skills and training, equipment and small-scale projects they need to grow their businesses.

‘‘I’m really happy to see the artisan sector in Victoria being recognised,’’ Ms Lim said.

‘‘There’s often a focus on export and ‘how can we grow?’ but there are those people that want to stay small and that’s where we want to be. Bigger is not always our goal.’’

Eligible producers can still apply for up to $5000 in the first round of the Victorian Government’s Artisanal Sector program grants until January 31.

■For more information on the grants or to apply, visit the Agriculture Victoria website at: agriculture.vic.gov.au