Sunny Ridge is a familiar label among strawberry lovers, with a long history of producing premium fruit. Their farming operation is spread across five sites (four in Victoria and one in Queensland), and altogether they grow a staggering 6 million strawberry plants, mainly in soil.
In 2017, they teamed up with blueberry growers Mountain Blue to form The Berry Collective, a joint venture which now supplies a diverse berry basket to customers all around Australia.
Among Harris Farm Markets customers, strawberries are right up there as one of Australia’s favourite fruit. But there’s more to them than pure deliciousness, according to Sunny Ridge Production and Supply Manager Phil Condell, they’re super healthy too.
“Strawberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and are rich in antioxidants,” he says. “They’re also very versatile and are perfect for enjoying with all sorts of meals; at breakfast, as a snack, for desserts or in smoothies.”
It’s all about flavour
Delicious strawberries, with that perfect combination of colour, sweetness and tang, don’t just happen by accident. Careful plant breeding goes into developing improved varieties, with excellent eating quality, and Sunny Ridge make sure they’re growing the best. Their winter strawberry crop from Queensland comes mainly from two Australian-bred varieties.
“Sundrench and Red Rhapsody varieties are fantastic berries to grow in South-east Queensland and were bred by the Queensland Department of Agriculture,” Phil Condell explains.
“Red Rhapsody is known for its deep red colour and both varieties produce good quantities of very large berries with gloss and flavour, giving the consumer an exciting eating experience.”
The good farmer
Strawberries are still harvested by hand, just as they’ve always been. But the farming process itself has evolved hugely over the decades, resulting in a much reduced environmental footprint.
At Sunny Ridge, they employ a practice known as IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which is an environmentally sensitive way of managing pests. That means combining best farming practices with the use of natural predators, so the need for chemical controls is reduced.
“It’s all about creating a balance between the grower and Mother Nature,” explains Daniel Rolek National General Manager of Sunny Ridge. “And that means encouraging natural predators like birds too. As a result, we’ve seen chemical use drop by 60–70 per cent over the last 5–7 years.”
Clever technology has given the modern grower other tools to draw on too. One essential piece of equipment is the refractometer, which measures the sugar content of fruit just by holding it against the strawberry. How’s that for ensuring a perfect harvest!
- Store strawberries in the fridge if you’re keeping for a few days, or at room temp if you’re planning to use soon after purchase.
- To prepare, always wash and hull before eating.
- Freeze strawberries whole in plastic bags or as pulp in containers.
Pick your own
Want to pick your own ripe strawberries, fresh from the plant? The Sunny Ridge strawberry farm at Main Ridge, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, offers a U-Pick experience from October through to April. There’s also a cafe and retail store, open Friday to Sunday every week. For details, visit www.sunnyridge.com.au.