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Windermere Berry Farm : Producing Value Long-Term

Home to Whanganui’s famous fresh berry pancakes and fresh fruit ice cream, Windermere Berry Farms is a nostalgic slice of paradise for many locals, and a popular destination for tourists. Situated on the Whanganui-New Plymouth highway, the farm is a great opportunity for an interactive experience of in-season berry picking, greeting friendly alpacas, and enjoying food and refreshments at their on-site café.

Michelle and Tony Boswell purchased Windermere Berry Farms 13 years ago, with the land having produced berry fruit for over 50 years. Their ethos was to take a new or already-established business and provide long-term value for their workers and people within the community.

Stretched across nearly ten hectares, with seven hectares planted, Windermere grows strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries – the majority of which are strawberries planted in tunnel houses. They hope to transition all of their fruit into tunnel houses over the next five years, to increase productivity.

Matthew Boswell is the general manager of Windermere, with high hopes of creating an environment that is staff-focused, high-tech, and increasing the quality of their fruit yields through research and development. Matthew’s first memories of Windermere, after his parents bought the farm, are the countless hours of cleaning out strawberry containers. Every time peak season came around, Matthew would return home from university to help his family, which naturally evolved into a leadership role running the packhouse. Once the time came for his parents to pull back from the business, he was offered the role of general manager, where he could put skills he had gained both inside and outside of the business to use. Working alongside Matthew is Summy, their lead grower, and Jim, their foreman, who helps assist with the day-to-day operations.

The main strawberry variety that they grow is Cabrillo, which is one of the popular varieties grown in Australia. The benefit of this variety is that it produces a higher yield and creates larger berries, although Matthew did point out that it is considered more difficult to grow, so they regularly participate in research and development. Windermere also has five next-generation strawberry varieties that they are trialing. Within the next ten years, they are hoping to turn at least three of these varieties into the main varieties throughout the farm.

With a background in banking, Matthew is focused on the numbers and has a goal to increase remuneration for his permanent staff by 50% within the next five years. He is also mindful to make sure people aren’t overworked, so he will check in with their team leaders regularly to see whether they need a break or to take some time off. There are a total of 92 staff across the whole business, including café staff, packers, pickers, and growers. They currently employ 25 Samoan RSE workers who spend seven hardworking months berry picking and then enjoy five months off back in their home country. “They send home money for their families, and approximately ten years of what they’d receive in Samoa they make here in seven months,” Matthew highlighted.

“A key goal for us is being able to create a sustainable business where all our stakeholders are winners; if our five key stakeholders are going well in the long term, we’ve got a very sustainable business that can continue to create value. The five key stakeholders are our staff, shareholders, customers – both end customers and supermarket wholesalers – the environment, and our suppliers. An area of importance is our staff, which means higher wages and the ability to get more training. In the last two years, our training budget has increased in terms of what we’re looking to do over the winter – upskilling people – which again means you’re able to get higher-value and higher-paying jobs if people are trained to a higher level,” Matthew said.

The business is committed to sustainable efforts; looking into electric golf carts and using coconut coir bags for their berries, which are then either turned into kitty litter or upcycled by other farmers and growers. The pond is a unique part of their operation, with water and minerals flowing underground from Ruapehu, and the soil which is made of volcanic loam, the perfect type for growing.

Windermere has two very important pieces of equipment that help to provide high-quality berries. They’ve had their Nano Bubble machine for over two and a half years now, which helps to improve the water quality coming from the pond and enriches the flavour of the berries. Their other machine, the Eros System, is located in their packhouse and helps kill off airborne diseases such as botrytis. “One of the key things for Windermere is looking to increase the freshness of berries and reduce the number of emissions taken by getting our food to market. We’re doing this by increasing the number of stores within the lower North Island that we supply directly to,” Matthew said.

“I’m always looking for ways to try and make the business more productive, more efficient, and create higher living standards for New Zealanders as the next generation of cultivars comes through. A key focus for us is improving our products and keeping up with the best technology,” he concluded.