The story of the large, crunchy Eureka blueberries involves decades of research and passion. Meet the family behind Mountain Blue Farms.
The secret to a perfect blueberry
Ever wondered how many blueberries you could eat in one go? For Natalie Bell, of Mountain Blue Farms, sampling the different varieties of blueberries is an important part of her job – and can see her eating around one kilogram of these sweet little berries a day. When her dad, Ridley, was managing the farm, he’d eat up to three kilos of blueberries each day. This may sound like a lot but sampling the different plants is a vital part of quality control. “It helps us test the taste and texture of each blueberry plant,” Natalie says.
Blueberry growing is a family affair for Natalie. Based at Tabulam, in far north-eastern NSW, they have been growing blueberries since 1978. “My dad is the inspiration to the Mountain Blue business,” Natalie says. “His passion is in not just farming but blueberry breeding, including the amazing Eureka blueberry genetics. He has no doubt passed on the passion of blueberry farming to the whole family, including regular blueberry taste-testing sessions with the grandkids.
“My dad had a hand in bringing the fruit to Australia, and my siblings have all had multiple roles in the business over the years. Today it’s run by my brother, Andrew, and my husband and I have a farm next door.”
Ridley, who is Head of Research and Development for the Mountain Blue Group, saw the potential in blueberries while at technical college in the 1970s. At the time they were uncommon and considered “exotic”, but he always enjoyed their flavour and believed they could be more than just a cooking ingredient.
The secret to growing blueberries, Natalie says, is having the right soil, climate, bees and quality water. “They are not overly difficult to grow in small volumes but to do it commercially takes a well-trained and forward-thinking team who can forecast roadblocks before we get to them,” she says.
Coastal and warm inland regions are best, so Mountain Blue grows early crops in the Atherton Tablelands, in Far North Queensland, and midyear crops in Tabulam. The operation now employs a permanent team of around 90 and more than 700 seasonal workers during peak picking and packing times.
To ensure customer satisfaction, the berries are sorted by a machine which detects any damage to the fruit. And While all of Mountain Blue Farm’s produce is delicious, the star attraction is the large-sized Eureka blueberry, exclusive to Coles.
“We have strict guidelines for Eureka berries,” Natalie says. “They must be a certain size, as well as crunchy, sweet and full of flavour.”
Eureka blueberries are available in Coles stores nationally.
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