Claire and Peter are changing the strawberry game by using organic practices, educating consumers through agritourism, and reducing waste with a nifty side hustle.

Claire and Pete never set out to be strawberry farmers. They found themselves in the food and wine hub of Daylesford when Claire was working in Ballarat, and Pete was working in Castlemaine, and they needed a place to live at the midpoint.

They fell in love with the region and, after living there for six months, purchased a 10-hectare former pine plantation. Claire had fond childhood memories of visiting pick-your-own berry farms in summer, so soon after settling there, they decided to try planting some blueberry shrubs. 'While we were at it, we planted five different types of cane berries and thought we might as well plant some strawberries too,' says Claire.

While almost half of the blueberries died, the cane berries and strawberries grew well and fruited prolifically. So, they decided to build a u-pick berry farm business focused on strawberries.

Claire and Pete didn't want Morningswood to be any old berry farm; they wanted to do things differently. Here are some of the things that set this u-pick farm apart from the rest.


Farm/Enterprise Name: Morningswood Farm

Farm/Enterprise Location: Dalesford, Victoria, Australia

Type of Enterprise: Strawberry farm

Primary Markets Served: Local direct to consumer

Property Size: 24 acres (5 under production)

Property Elevation: 600m

Average Annual Rainfall: 617mm

Climate: Warm temperate

Soil Types: Clay



The way that Claire and Pete established their business veered away from the traditional farming setup. As an agritourism venture, relying on u-pick farm visits as their main income stream, they are as much tourism operators as they are farmers. Offerings at the farm include the u-pick operation as well as farm tours starting summer 2022-23.

Part of their decision to run their business in this way is that it provides them with a platform to educate customers on their sustainable growing practices and low-waste methods. This education gives customers the power to make informed decisions on where to buy produce from and how to vote with their dollar by supporting more sustainable farms in the future.

Organic growing practices

Not certified organic, but eco-friendly and guilt free.

The American organisation EWG (Environmental Working Group) runs annual studies testing for pesticide residue in fruit and vegetables. Consistently, strawberries top their Dirty DozenTM list. Most recently, in 2022, over 90% of samples of strawberries tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.

This was something that Claire and Pete wanted to avoid. Though not certified organic, Claire and Pete primarily use organic growing methods. They don't spray their crop and manage weeds with physical rather than chemical methods.

'I tell kids on our u-pick tours to eat the strawberries that the bugs have taken bites out of,' says Pete. 'The bugs are telling us that those ones are the sweetest.'

The couple accepts that it is worth losing a small percentage of their crop to insects to preserve the overall health of their fruit, their land and their consumers.

Claire and Pete have also used organic methods to improve the health of their soil. Claire explains that working with clay soil can be challenging, but they've been learning how to maximise its structural, biological and chemical health over the last seven years. They learnt that clay soils left bare lose fertility and moisture. Covering clay soils with mulch, cover crops or matting improves moisture retention, and the soil microbiome becomes active and healthy. Other soil management practices include the use of manures, liquid fertilisers (worm tea, fish emulsion and seaweed) and blood and bone. They also use certified organic rock dust to correct soil pH and other mineral imbalances.

Low waste and Box Bros

Box Bros reusable punnets combat the single-use plastics the strawberry industry is notorious for.

As well as using organic growing practices, the couple wanted to run an environmentally friendly business by minimising their waste. They have invested in reusable UV-stabilised weed matting rather than the single-use plastic matting that is standard for traditional strawberry farms.

Single-use punnets from the berry industry contribute significantly to an enormous amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfill. Claire and Pete were determined to find an alternate option to single-use plastic punnets so that they weren't contributing to this problem.

They began by using compostable punnets made from corn starch, which they showed to their neighbour Alan "Shorty" Short, who was unimpressed. He was sure he could make a reusable plastic-free punnet more affordably and artistically than their corn-starch options.

He began experimenting with weaving cardboard into a container, and after coming up with a successful cardboard template, Shorty moved on to working with wood veneer strips. They got in contact with a local veneer manufacturer whose veneer offcuts were going straight to landfill. They soon struck up a deal where the waste veneer would be redirected to them rather than going into landfill. Shorty and Pete named this ingenious side hustle Box Bros, and Morningswood Farm has been using the woven veneer punnets ever since.

Box Bros has since expanded and supplies more than just punnets for Morningswood Farm; they now make seasonal hamper boxes and sell individual boxes of all sizes on Etsy. During the cooler months, when fruiting and u-pick tours stop, Box Bros provides a handy income stream to help with the farm's cash flow while keeping local workers employed.

Claire and Pete's top tips for tree changers

Without any farming experience, making the change to becoming berry farmers was a massive learning curve for Claire and Pete. There were some things, however, that they had wished they had known before they took the leap.

Beware of legislation, licenses and permits

One of the most important parts of setting up a business is making sure that you are on top of the appropriate permits and regulations. This became quite the headache for Claire and Pete early on, especially concerning their property's water usage permits. They had assumed they would be able to irrigate their crops with water from the dam on their property, but the local legislation for farms would not allow them to use the dam water for commercial purposes. Instead, they had to spend tens of thousands dollars drilling a bore and building a treatment facility for that water. This was something they didn't know before buying the property, and it almost made them decide to sell. In hindsight, they wish they had known about this legislation earlier, as it would've weighed into whether they purchased the property or not.

State, territory and local governments manage the licences and permits for the agriculture industry. If you are looking to set up an agricultural operation, the insurance, licences and permits you may need include:

  • water usage
  • clearing vegetation
  • disposal of waste
  • fire management and safety
  • handling livestock and animals
  • erecting fencing, property or other structures
  • handling, storage and use of chemicals or dangerous substances
  • public liability insurance
  • place of assembly
  • bushfire management plan

Many state and local councils offer online business templates that can map out requirements for permits. Check online to see if your local area offers a similar tool.

Patience before profit

It took Claire and Pete all their savings and the better part of four years still working their day jobs before they could make the switch to managing Morningswood Farm full time. Starting a farm requires a big investment of time and money before profits are seen. It's doable for the average person, but it takes commitment, sacrifice and patience.

Don't be afraid to do things differently

Pete and Claire set out to be different, to use organic practices, to lower their waste and to create a business that is grounded in community. Doing things differently can be the way that you make your mark in the industry, and one of the best places to start is online. Researching alternate production methods is the perfect way to discover how to farm in a way that aligns with your ethics and goals. There are endless resources at farmers' fingertips today, and this is what makes best-practice agriculture and doing things differently attainable.