Along the fertile pastures of Gippsland in the small town of Shady Creek, situated in West Gippsland, just over 100 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, is Collins Kitchen’s strawberry supplier, Gippsland Strawberries. Grown using hydroponic methods, we learn about why this method of strawberry production is a positive step towards a sustainable ecosystem.
“The opportunity for Gippsland Strawberries was discovered after a review of the standard of produce within the existing strawberry market in 2011,” explains farm manager, Scott Carter. “After the company diversified into the food industry, Gippsland Strawberries begun operations with the acquisition of 5,200 square metres of glasshouses in Shady Creek, near Warragul, in January 2015. The existing structure was then modified to create what we consider to be the best strawberry growing facility in Australia. Planting commenced in February 2015, with the first fruit being harvested that April. It is worth noting that since we began harvesting strawberries we haven’t missed a single week of production.”
Whilst sustainable cultivation is often associated with ideas such as biodynamic farming, Gippsland Strawberries supports a cycle of food consciousness that starts from hydroponic grow bags. According to Scott “every external factor that affects how the plant and the fruit is produced, such as light, water, temperature, nutrients and humidity, can be controlled and monitored constantly to produce a premium product.”
Growing hydroponically to actively preserve ecosystem diversity also creates many benefits in a sustainable system. “We use an Integrated Pest Management program which releases ‘good’ predator insects to prey on ‘bad’ insects that otherwise may affect the health of the plants and quality of fruit. We don’t use soil fumigants which can be detrimental to the ozone layer,” Scott adds. “It’s also labour friendly, our workers don’t have to bend over and harvest fruit off the ground all day and never have to work in cold, rain, mud or 42 degree heat.”
“Being able to control the amount of water given to each plant and having a glasshouse results in a more efficient use of water, something that is very important to Australia and across the globe.”
For Scott, local produce is of importance during the production, distribution and consumption cycles. “Local equals fresh, and fresh is best. Transporting fruit not only takes time, it also affects the quality. Our strawberries have consistently better flavour, sweetness, aroma, colour and shape than other produce on the market. We can also grow fruit at a constant high level all year round which means that Grand Hyatt Melbourne guests can always be assured of a quality product that provides a taste sensation.”