Pick-your-own pays off for the Coles

AFTER planting a few blueberry bushes several years ago the Coles family are now running a thriving agritourism business on their farm at Hagley. The Hagley Berry Farm is owned by Carleen and Stuart Coles.

Mr Coles, who is an agronomist, said the blueberries offered an opportunity to make good use of a small area of their 20ha property. After starting with just a small plot, the family now have 1ha under blueberry production.

The family started out just selling to locals through an appointment-only system. Now they have thrown open the farm gate and have been offering a pick-your-own experience for four years.

Three years ago, they bought an old grain silo and have since repurposed it to become their small on-farm weighing area and shop. While visitor numbers dropped during Covid restrictions, Mrs Coles said things were starting to pick up.

“We didn’t have any tourists two years ago, we had a dribble last year and now last week I was surprised, the tourists are starting to come back through but we also get a lot of locals,” she said.

Mrs Coles said they also get some locals and visitors who come to pick larger amounts of fruit to stock their freezers for the year ahead. Some tourists with caravans and campervans also fill their fridges before they return home to the mainland states. The farm includes about seven different blueberry varieties.

“It helps to spread the picking season, so they don’t all come in at once,” Mrs Coles said. Picking season normally starts on January 1 and continues until about mid-February. “We normally have a six-to-eight-week season which is good because it compliments the farm work we’re doing at this time of the year,” Mr Coles said.

“So, we’re flat out for six or eight weeks, but then it stops so we don’t have to be here six days a week.”

The farm is open from Monday to Saturday during the picking season. Balancing the fruit supply with visitor numbers was an important part of what they do.

Mr Coles said social media played an important role in that area and was something they focused more on these days. As well as blueberries, the Coles have also established a small pick-your-own flowers area. Visitors can pick a range of flowers including gladioli and several varieties of sunflowers, which Mr Cole said were proving quite popular.

“That’s new this year and we’re just trialling it to see how people are responding,” he said. “It’s about the experience so people come here for blueberries, but they can see other things as well. There aren’t many other pick-your-own flowers experiences available either.”

There are also farm animals near the picking area including calves and goats which children can feed. The Coles are involved with the Opening the Gate agri-tourism program.

“It has made us think about other options and helped us to fine tune some of the things we were doing,” Mrs Coles said. “We’ve also looked more at what our customers wanted, how to engage with them more, but also the different types of customers we have coming through because there’s a whole broad range, so it’s about how you target them with what you do.”

To find out more go to the Hagley Berries Facebook page.