GreenAcres Blueberry Farm completely fill the Northern Valleys News brief of ‘uncovering the hidden treasures of our region’. Bursting onto the scene this summer, accidental farmers MJ and Carlene Scheepers have hit the ground running —enthusiastically embracing their new roles and brimming with potential!
MJ and Carlene had been living on acreage in Woodridge for a few years, sharing their peaceful abode regularly with good friends Chantelle and Danny. “They loved the lifestyle,” explains MJ.
When the beautiful 10-acre Neergabby property — complete with two houses — came up for sale, the couples decided to invest together. This secured a tree-change for Chantelle and Danny, and an unexpected business opportunity, with a well-established blueberry farm as part of the package.
MJ said, “We weren’t fussed about blueberries as we all had jobs! Initially we thought, we’ll just get rid of it — sell it off and demolish the structures.”
After discussions with the previous owner, who had been operating the farm for 14 years, they had a change of heart and can now be described as very fussed about blueberries!
“I’ve quit my job and run the farm full time!” laughs MJ.
Taking over just six months ago, GreenAcres have had an inaugural season any grower would be content with. They not only managed to keep up with the yield produced in previous years under an experienced operator, they dipped their toe into the popular pick-your-own-fruit scene, with thousands of people visiting their end-of-season open day in January.
“The first season was good for us,” said MJ. “There’s was a lot to learn and we didn’t know how it was going to go. We didn’t have any contacts, had to source labour and contractors…but we pretty much matched what the previous guys did, so I’m happy with that.”
MJ and Carlene had initially planned to have their pruning completed by January, however the bushes were still laden with fruit — presenting a dilemma between wasting this year’s crop, or potentially lagging behind production for next season. It was this conundrum that inspired them to open the farm gates to the public, in the hope they would be keen to clear the bushes of the remaining berries.
“It was really just a test of the market, to see if people would be interested in driving out here to pick their berries,” said Carlene. “The first time it was posted on Instagram 2000 people showed up — we were completely overwhelmed!”
“We had people from as far as Mandurah and Rockingham,” adds MJ. “It was good — we now know for next season; we can have more open days.”
If you have had an idyllic fantasy of a wholesome day out picking farm-fresh fruit ruined by the realities of this labour-intensive agricultural practice, you might want to give the experience a second chance with blueberries. Clean, weather-protected tunnels, with fruit at an ergonomic height for all ages make it a very pleasant activity — with the sweet reward of a belly full of berries plus more to take home. It also provides an opportunity to re-connect with the origins of our food, especially if you’ve ever reeled at the cost of a handful of blueberries in a punnet at the supermarket.
“So many people remarked, ‘We can understand now why we are paying so much’”, said MJ. “They love the idea of walking around and picking the fruit, but it does take time.”
GreenAcres will be using the off-season to attend to repair and maintenance of their existing infrastructure and to expand their crop.
“Our goal is to have 5000 trees ready for next season,” said MJ.
Despite the steep learning curve, and long hours — Carlene says, “Sometimes I don’t see MJ until 8 o’clock at night, and before I’m even up, he’s out there!” — MJ is thriving in his unsolicited career change. He says, “What I love, is every day there is something new.”
Follow GreenAcres on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with their progress this year — and to know when to clear the diary for a pick-your-own adventure!