Barjarg strawberry farm’s organic growth thanks in part to Amish web guru
Five years ago while grinding along the Monash Freeway to work, Andrew Meiers decided he was sick of traffic and wanted to be a farmer.
His web-designer wife, Nina, agreed in a “weak moment” — and the pair soon ditched their life in Endeavour Hills to have a crack at starting a berry farm on an 11ha “blank canvas” in Barjarg.
Then, in a bizarre twist, an Amish agriculture guru in the US wound up seeking Ms Meiers’ advice on web design, and has helped the pair turn the business into a commercial success expected to bring in $200,000 from its autumn harvest.
Despite this, the pair have reluctantly listed their Bimbimbi Berry Farm at 112 Peacheys Lane for $1.15m-$1.25m so they can move closer to their ageing parents in Queensland, but are hoping the buyer will have the same enthusiasm and even as much experience as they did when they started.
“We didn’t know anything about berry farming,” Ms Meiers said.
“But we figured ‘how hard could it be’?”
Their lack of experience became clear quickly when they had to scrap an initial plan to grow blueberries after discovering they typically take five years to become profitable.
They opted to grow organic strawberries instead, prioritising regenerative and organic farming as well as the aesthetics of their plot. And they believe their lack of experience has worked in their favour.
“We didn’t have any fixed ideas and we were prepared to make mistakes,” Ms Meiers said.
“We over-managed things, but it worked out that strawberries love attention to detail and lots of it.”
Bizarrely, the pair received a lot of advice from US-based Amish farmer and regenerative agriculture expert John Kempf who has become an unlikely web guru for organic growers.
Despite the Amish’s famed intolerance of technology, Mr Kempf now routinely seeks the advice of Ms Meiers for his online platform for farmers
“He’s still very traditional, but he does do seminars and webinars,” she said.
In return, they have learned to actively encourage ladybirds on the property to eat pest insects and to use soil nutrition to manage other risks and to propagate highly productive plants.
Due to the certification required for organic farming, the pair will effectively leave a manual to the next owners explaining everything they have done — and how to recreate their fields to expand the farm’s capacity if desired.
“If they follow our system, what we have learned, they will probably do better than us — because they won’t make our mistakes,” Ms Meiers said.
“And organic food is very much a growing market. So we will set something up again in Queensland.”
District Property Group director Jenny Gould is selling the farm for the Meiers and said the property was as scenic as it was productive, offering sweeping views to Lake Nillahcootie and up to the Strathbogie Ranges.
Ms Gould said with holiday homes in the area selling for $1m, she was expecting interest from a mix of buyers despite the seven-figure asking price.
Many of the area’s recent purchasers have come from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne.
The farm has four fields of strawberries that last year produced 24 tonnes of fruit, and an additional two fields prepared for planting. It also has 800 raspberry plants.
The property includes a 20m x 16m greenhouse where about 2000 blueberry plants are currently at varying stages of maturity.
There’s also a cool room, a packing freezer, a 75m-deep water bore, an insulated office, toilets and showers.
A planning permit was previously issued for a house, but has lapsed.
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