Woolgoolga Blueberries - Pal & Kulwinder Sandhu & Sons
There are so many reasons to enjoy eating the humble Blueberry. This little burst of blue has the greatest antioxidant capacity of most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables plus the added health benefits ranging from the maintenance of healthy bones, reduction of blood pressure, control of diabetes, protection against heart disease, help to foil cancer, improving mental health, healthy digestion, and if that’s not enough the blueberry can also help in the pursuit of weight loss and the never ending fight against ‘wrinkles’!
Sabi Sandhu gave me a tour of one of his families’ blueberry farms in the Woolgoolga area, north of Coffs Harbour, which he helps run with his mother, father and brother. “My father came to Australia in 1994 and worked hard on a banana and blueberry plantation to secure a future for our family. In the late 90’s the returns declined in the banana market so he concentrated on Blueberries; the family business has been going since 2007” said Sabi.
The micro climate is perfect for blueberries and so it was no surprise that the ‘Blueberry Boom’ hit, and continues to grow in the Coffs Harbour area, especially Woolgoolga. It’s worth mentioning that this beautiful, sleepy stretch of coast line produces an amazing 88% of the national blueberries with the majority sold to the domestic market while the other is exported to Asia and European markets; a small percentage of the berries are processed as frozen product.
Sabi’s family are from a large Sikh community from the Punjab town of Sandhwan. “My mother, brother and I moved here in 2006 and it is the best move we ever made. It’s just like at home, having so many cousins living nearby, but Woolgoolga is a more beautiful place” said Sabi. He and his brother Jaskaran went to Woolgoolga High School and after leaving school moved directly into full time work in the family business on the Blueberry farms.
Blueberries are challenging crops which need constant monitoring; they are also a very labour intensive crop which is why it is essential that the family works cohesively. Sabi said “I don’t mind hard work and I like working on the farm and it’s all worthwhile when it’s lucrative. We also grow tomatoes and cucumbers when the berries stop fruiting, so we have crops all year round”
Sabi told me that the Norco Rural store in Woolgoolga is an integral part of their business “My Dad has been dealing with Lou Maione, the store manager, since he first started farming here and Lou is invaluable to the day to day running of our business. We know that Lou will have whatever we need in stock before we know that we need it, even down to the weather, Lou’s already prepared with what’s required if we need to change what has been planned; we can always depend on Norco for the support we need” Said Sabi.