LuvaBerry is a family-owned strawberry farm in Wamuran, operated by Mandy and Adrian Schultz. Strawberry farmers are generally vulnerable to seasonal price variations (or severe weather events). Towards the end of the strawberry season prices might fall so low that it is more expensive to drive strawberries to sell at the market than it is to destroy them. In 2017, Mandy grew increasingly frustrated at the amount of strawberries they had to throw out and started LuvaBerry’s War on Waste.
LuvaBerry’s War on Waste meant Mandy looked for opportunities to turn strawberries that would have gone to waste into value-added products. She started freezing strawberries and using them in jams. She collaborated with other agribusinesses to turn strawberries into snacks by freeze-drying them, making chocolates and much more. Mandy’s innovative approach saw her developing an online community through her Facebook page. She started to sell directly to this community through online orders that her customers would pick up at local collection points. Her reputation also grew through media exposure and being featured on celebrity chef Alistair Macleod’s Great Day Out.
LuvaBerry has faced many hard times over the last three years. Mandy says: “Being resilient is part of being a farmer. We faced severe weather events – drought, floods, and the 2018 needle contamination, and we’ve persevered through that.”
Prior to COVID, Adrian and Mandy decided to diversify and grow finger limes and herbs in addition to strawberries. Finger limes are a specialty product usually marketed to high-end restaurants. LuvaBerry’s finger limes were set for export, but their export buyer cancelled the order due to COVID. This meant the finger lime component of LuvaBerry’s business was decimated. There was no alternative market for finger limes due to the closure of the travel industry and restaurants. While this was a significant loss, they turned their focus to the areas of their business that could still work, such as the strawberries and herbs.
As Mandy is very collaborative by nature, she promotes her farm and business friends’ products on the Farm Gate store, and services and tourism experiences on her website.
Mandy could not distribute the value-added products to her loyal online customers as she did before COVID, so instead she created Farm Gate Online. Setting up an online shop meant she needed to get some help. She wanted to ensure her customers could still order their products online but drive to pick them up from the LuvaBerry Farm Gate. As Mandy is very collaborative by nature, she promotes her farm and business friends’ products on the Farm Gate store, and services and tourism experiences on her website.
Mandy also introduced a new experience called ‘Peckish Picking’ where visitors can handpick fresh strawberries (500g eco boxes) if they book ahead of time. This provides a high-quality experience to visitors, while safely adhering to physical distancing rules.
In keeping with her enthusiasm to create new products, Mandy worked with a business friend to create a thyme and sage butter using excess herbs, which was far more popular than expected and the first batch sold out quickly.
Strawberry farming is a labour-intensive process and LuvaBerry regularly employs casual, young international staff in addition to local permanent staff. The business benefitted from the Government’s Job Keeper program to keep three staff employed. However, they could not take on the unprecedented influx of international students hard hit by the employment downturn, who turned up to the farm looking for work. Mandy and Adrian referred these students to Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT) to help source charity programs available for them in the region.
As many people from Brisbane go on outings to enjoy a “real-life farm experience,” LuvaBerry will continue to welcome families at Farmgate and offer Peckish Picking. “Who would have thought that a simple real-life farm experience, a pile of dirt and a dog for kids to play with, would be so popular?” muses Mandy. Mandy and Adrian anticipate that this hands-on experience where tourists and loyal customers get a chance to pick their own strawberries and collect fresh Moreton Bay produce will continue to be part of what they offer in future.
“Who would have thought that a simple real-life farm experience, a pile of dirt and a dog for kids to play with, would be so popular?”
Mandy and Adrian are resilient. As farmers they are used to adapting when droughts or severe weather events hit. Mandy says: “We've even had to put something in place for strawberry contamination, so we can’t let a worldwide virus take us down. So, for us, the adaptation came from recognising that we were on a pathway to build relationships with people. People want to know where their produce came from, and their local farmers.”
Mandy recommends becoming “COVID-adaptable, with help from MBRIT” and remembering to practice gratitude by appreciating the beautiful region and people around you.