If you met Sandi Cleary a decade ago, you would have been in the presence of a completely different person.
Sandi used to jetset around the world as a management consultant for Top 100 companies like AMP, Commbank and Priority 1.
It was a high-rolling lifestyle but it came with its downsides too – excessive stress being the main one.
Sandi eventually decided that she needed to ground herself and decided to enrol in a Diploma of Horticulture.
“I’ve always loved horticulture – my mum was an avid gardener,” Sandi said.
“As a child we were always given plots to grow things.”
It doesn’t get any better than going out and picking your own food for the table.
Her teacher Marc Percival, now her agronomist, was the main catalyst in Sandi choosing to take up blueberry farming.
She invested in a small plot of ex-grazing land in Talarm and started reconditioning the soil, which originally registered at a worrying PH of 4.3.
After three years, and a three-point improvement in the PH level, she also started the process of organic certification, and is right now reaping her very first yield of organic blueberries.
There is quite a lot of rigmarole involved in the certification process.
In order to be certified organic, Sandi needed to provide proof of land-use for the previous three years, plant green manure crops, divert water run-off into bog-plants in order to filter water, create her own compost, construct wind-breaks, have independent soil testing and keep immaculate records and more – the whole process taking 12 months to complete.
But she persisted and succeeded.
WATCH: How Sandi maintains her certified organic blueberry crop.
And that isn’t the only success she’s had this year.
Sandi recently took out two silver awards for her Blueberry Shrub (cordial); one in Melbourne at the Australian Food Awards and the second at the Regional Food Awards at the Sydney Royal Agricultural Show.
Her Blueberry Drizzle Dessert Sauce also earned Sandi a bronze in Sydney.
This is an enviable result, being the first time she had entered any of her ‘Blushing Blueberry’ products into competitions.
The fruit used in her winning products was sourced from local growers, but she is excited at the prospect of being able to use her own from this year on.
The future of the industry
Sandi is concerned about the recommendation brought before and passed by Nambucca council last week to regulate the horticulture industry in the shire.
Sandi’s farm is categorised as RU2 or rural residential land.
While the regulation wouldn’t necessarily affect her now, it would if in future she wished to expand her business.
One of the regulations considered under the proposal is for a 200m buffer zone from neighbouring domiciles— a measure to protect nearby residents from spraying, similar to that Bellingen Shire Council plan to implement.
But as Sandi’s property measures around 150m across, this regulation would put her blueberry farm in violation.
The other concern for Sandi is the recommendation for the use of black netting around all blueberry crops.
“I can’t see any reason for it other than an aesthetic one,” Sandi said.
Sandi is convinced the proposed regulation is a knee-jerk reaction to the densification of urban blueberry farming in other parts of the Mid North Coast, with many neighbours considering the influx of netting a blight on the landscape.
“White netting like I’ve got lets more light in, and birds can see it,” Sandi said.
“I haven’t had a single bird trapped in my nets since I put them up.
“The problem with this regulation is it’s all stick stuff and no carrot.”
But Cr Susan Jenvey, who voted in favour of the recommendation at the October 12 council meeting, said that the regulation would serve to “avoid future conflicts over land use that might arise from intensive horticulture”.
“There is not a single person living on any type of rural land in our shire that would not want a 200 metre buffer zone from their HOUSE if the property next door uses chemical sprays,” Cr Jenvey wrote.
This is good farm planning. Kempsey Shire has had a DA requirement for all its farmlands for many years without loss of investment.
“Conflicts from intensive horticulture are the number one source of complaints to Coffs Harbour Council.”
With a motion being brought to council next week to rescind the regulation motion that passed, that debate is one that is likely to continue for some time.
For now, Sandi is quietly chuffed about her new life and her new ‘blue’ life-blood.