Wandering the fields of Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm with friends and family to pick your own delicious berries creates memories that last a lifetime and your own connection to this farm.
It’s refreshing to find a place that is fun for all ages and there certainly is a plethora of ways to enjoy berries here; from reaping the sweet bounty from the picking fields or munching your way through the intense flavours of the freeze-dried berries, to sharing creamy farm made ice-cream in one of the delicious desserts from their cafe. There’s a rich history here that has grown from humble beginnings, and a pursuit of excellence that will have you coming back again and again.
More than 50 years ago this piece of paradise was a small orchard supplying local fruit shops. As the farm expanded so the variety of crops grew, until 1970 when a ten-acre area was planted with 200,000 strawberry plants – all by hand. “The mild maritime climate proved vital as the plants were subject to little or no frost, and the cool dry nights and hot days made it ideal for growing berries”, says Grant Peck, Sunny Ridge’s CEO. “Plus the location meant the berries were ripening at a different time to other states – critical for wholesale market success”.
In fact, they grew so well on the rich red clay soils, that today more than 5 million (that’s right!) strawberry plants are planted each year – still by hand - over the (now) four Sunny Ridge properties, and they are Australia’s largest strawberry producer.
In the early 1980’s the Main Ridge farm opened its first field for people to pick their own berries, and today they pride themselves on having dedicated fields of quality berries available for a full six month period. It can be even longer if the weather is good; they have been known to be still picking strawberries in June! Over the years the range of berry focussed experiences has expanded to include a café, plus their own ice-cream, liqueurs, and condiment ranges.
As the farm grew, so has the innovation. Over the years the team have investigated and implemented ways to improve all aspects of the production of quality strawberries and this strong research background continues to this day. “The environmental aspect of growing strawberries is very important to us, so we continue to push the envelope on sustainable farming practises”, says Grant. “We are now exploring concepts like compostable packaging, or using coconut husks to grow plants in. There are so many opportunities.” It’s no surprise that they are now the Australian market leader in strawberry production and are regarded as a world leader in strawberry production.
There is something special about fruit so fresh and straight from the field, and there is no question that Sunny Ridge is all about quality - they want to grow the best berries. Their planting regime is highly complicated and includes 7-8 different varieties that mature at different times but it means they can offer the longest strawberry season on the Mornington Peninsula as well as excellent value through a range of sizes and grades.
“The berries are just so delicious and fragrant. You can smell the aroma when you walk into the farm shop”, says Susie Warrington, Head of Operations -Agritourism/Retail. “People really love the fact you can come to the farm to buy your fresh, local produce with low food miles – and from a farm that employs a lot of locals”. But it’s not just about strawberries; they also grow raspberries on their Mornington Peninsula properties. Berry heaven!
It’s not every day that you get the chance to pick (and eat) your own strawberries, and this fact alone makes a visit to Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm a special experience. “You can easily spend more than an hour in the fresh air and sunshine sharing a fruit picking adventure with your friends”, says Grant, “and kids of all ages love it – they are actively engaged and it’s a real adventure.
It starts from when they get their own special picking punnet and make their way to the strawberry field and doesn’t finish until they are in the car loaded up with fruit – if the berries make it that far!”
You can’t help but be happy wandering the fields looking for that next berry, and there is a sense of pride in having picked the berries for yourself. “We want everyone to have the best possible U-Pick experience” says Susie. “People leave feeling reconnected to where their food comes from, plus it’s a great value activity” And the best tip for budding strawberry lovers? “Strawberries don’t ripen once they are picked, so make sure you pick them when they are red all over,” says Susie.
You will fall in love all over again with the delicious and very insta-grammable strawberry desserts. The decadent dessert menu features strawberries (obviously) as well as the Sunny Ridge range of ice-cream that is all made on site using their own berries. The good news is that it is lower fat than commercial ice-cream so logically you can eat more. While the café serves other light meals, a crowd favourite is the very decadent chocolate fondue (with strawberries of course),
and the ever-popular fresh strawberries with strawberry ice-cream and sorbet, lashings of raspberry syrup and vanilla bean cream. For the traditionalist there are fluffy, freshly baked scones that taste even better with the real strawberry jam. Mmmmmm!
“With four properties across Victoria and Queensland, we can offer fresh picked Sunny Ridge grown strawberries all year round”, says Grant. “And being good quality fruit it means that whether you have your berries picked fresh or freeze-dried, in liqueurs, ice-cream or in the desserts we make ourselves, the flavour is amazing.”
There is a berry experience here for everyone; fresh fruits in all sizes and grades, including the very beautiful elegant long stemmed, extra-large strawberries that are in season just in time for Christmas, or the snap, freeze dried strawberries come in ‘snap’ (no chocolate), or choc-coated (milk, white, dark), or there are strawberry liqueurs, port, moscato, and cider – all locally made using Sunny Ridge berries.
Driving through the rolling hills of Main Ridge, you may be forgiven for not realising that this is home to the largest strawberry producer in Australia. This is probably because the plantings are done in such a way as to create a hidden patchwork of fields, meaning you simply cannot see the true extent of the farm. Perhaps this is why one of the questions still asked is “Have you been here long?” The farm certainly has grown considerably since its humble beginnings more than five decades ago, and what is truly impressive is that you can taste the love and attention in every berry. There is in fact far more to this strawberry farm than meets the eye…
Find Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm:
244 Shands Rd, Main Ridge 3928. P: 03 5989 4500
Open Nov to Apr; 7 days 9am – 5pm, May- October: Fri, Sat, Sun + Pub Hols and VIC school holidays 11am - 4pm
More info HERE>>
The Mornington Peninsula is a place unmatched in it’s beauty, diversity of experiences and quality of produce. Here you can discover hand picked, hand made local heroes.
Sometimes you need the local knowledge to find them so “I AM Mornington Peninsula” shares with you the stories of 10 local heroes. Come and meet the talented makers, creators and innovators of our region. The welcome is personal and there is so much heritage and passion. They work hard to make their dreams come true, and they want to share it with the world. “I AM Mornington Peninsula” means that you can find your way to meet them for yourselves. Read more at www.iamMP.com.au