Nicki and Dave Penn left Sydney to start Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm in 2002, and today their homegrown raspberries and blackberries make up their awarded range of jams, sauces and vinegars. The fruit farmers talk berries, hard work and what they’d do if they won the lottery.
Your former corporate careers were a world away from farming. What made you take the leap?
Our daughter Maddie was one, and we both felt a strong desire to lead a different life and do something together on the land. It was one of those ‘now or never’ moments.
Were you farming novices?
We didn’t have farming experience per se, although we were both studying a horticultural degree by correspondence in preparation before we moved to our 12 hectares near Mittagong. Nothing beats being thrown in the deep end in terms of learning, and no books prepare you for on farm experience. There was a lot of trial and error. Still is, but particularly so in the early years.
We’d looked at several different farming opportunities while still in Sydney but it wasn’t until we started looking more seriously in the Southern Highlands that growing berries became more of an interest, especially after we saw this property. The previous owners had put in some raspberry canes, and we saw we could put our own stamp on it. It also had stunning gardens we loved.
Why the Highlands?
Dave’s parents have lived here for 30 years so we knew the area. Traditionally, most berry fruit in Australia had been grown in the colder climes of Victoria and Tasmania but the development of poly-tunnels has meant raspberries particularly are now grown all year round in NSW and southern Queensland, so we decided to give it a go.
Is berry farming hardwork?
Yes. It’s extremely labour intensive. From the planting of the canes to the mulching, weeding, fertilising, picking and grading of the fruit, everything on our farm is done by hand.
What’s your growing cycle?
We generally plant tissue culture plants in late spring, once the threat of frosts has subsided, and we grow the fruiting varieties which are less vulnerable to late frost. We’re busiest during the picking months, February and March. All our fruit is handpicked. We employ up to four pickers, and Maddie and George are pretty good helpers.
Which came first, the berries or the jams?
The berries, but the product side of Cuttaway Creek came soon after. We started with raspberry jam, as we had a small amount of surplus fruit during our first harvest. Dave would bring it up to the kitchen, I’d add some sugar and put it on the stove top. We’ve now got 10 varieties of jams and marmalades like rhubarb and ginger jam, and three fruit marmalade as well as two dessert sauces and three berry wine vinegars.
Where can we taste test?
Locally you can find us at Harris Farm and Centennial Vineyards, Bowral; Southern Highlands Welcome Centre, Highlands Fresh, Tertini Wines, Mittagong; Joadja Winery; IGA Moss Vale, and the Tahmoor Garden Centre. We’re also sold throughout NSW, Queensland and Victoria, and export to Asia and the Middle East. These days we also manufacture products under license for other companies, domestically and internationally. All the fruit we use is 100% Australian grown.
Do you have a farm gate?
Only during the berry season, late January through to late March and early April. Even then we’re restricted to the fresh fruit that’s left after filling orders from established customers. It’s something we’d like to do more of down the track but for now, its best to ring to check what’s available.
Biggest farming challenge?
Three top qualities you need to be a successful berry farmer?
Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance.
If you won the lottery what, if anything, would you change?
We’d most likely further expand the manufacturing side of the business. And get someone else to do the weeding!