OBF aerial shot

Sustainable Farming Meets Family Fun at Oasis Berry Farms

See & Do Family Sustainability Series

Known for its towering forests, lush vineyards, vibrant gardens and natural attractions, the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges have always been the ‘lungs’ of Melbourne.

As such, sustainability is always in season here and across the region, businesses are implementing environmental and socially responsible initiatives at the forefront of their core business, ensuring our region stays clean and green for generations to come.

OBF showing dams water tanks solar panels

Set on 17 acres in Steels Creek, Oasis Berry Farms is a family favourite.

In addition to 5,000 bushes of delicious blueberries producing delicious and fresh berries that can be purchased by the bucketload from their on-site farmgate shed, there are amazing gardens to explore including a dinosaur garden, a miniatures garden, and buried treasure to be found on an island!

It's a place where kids can spend the day exploring and families can bring their own picnic or nab a coffee, cake or sweets, all made by a local baker from their farm-grown berries.

But Oasis Berry Farms wasn't always picturesque. Twelve years ago, Rodolfo Parisi bought a burnt-out 17-acre bush block in Steels Creek, as it was a sunny site - perfect for growing blueberries. But it was literally scorched by bushfires, and blueberry farms need plenty of water.

He set about clearing the debris caused by the fire and started to work to improve the land. He enlarged the original dam, dug out a second dam, and created an overflow between them with any surplus feeding back into the natural water course.

Operating solely on rainwater, Oasis Berry Farms stores 160,000 litres in tanks with water from the two dams, providing approx 7mgl of water.

Miniatures garden

As well as good irrigation, a crop is only as good as its soil. So in addition to his own extensive research, Rodolfo worked closely with agronomists from Landmark (now Nutrien Ag Solutions) to analyse the soil and help set his crop up to optimise profitability, productivity, and sustainability.

Soil management plays a vital role in long-term future soil health, as its quality can be altered with weather conditions - heavy rainfall can leech nutrients from the soil, so regular pH testing is essential. To aid moisture retention in the ground, he keeps inter-row grass irrigated year round (ie green) as that helps prevent the sun from drying the ground out.

Guests who visit Oasis Berry Farms love the fruit trees, conifer garden (pictured below) and nut trees he’s planted, but they weren’t just planted for shade and beauty. They were intentionally planted to assist with photosynthesis. More than 3,000 trees and shrubs around the property help reduce carbon emissions. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, converting the CO2 into plant matter.

Conifer Gardens at Oasis Berry Farms

Rodolfo planted and now harvests 5,000 blueberry bushes, with 10 different varieties, supplying Melbourne markets - benefiting both tourism and agribusiness sectors. The farm uses minimal chemicals on its berries to help keep the beneficial insect population alive to feed on the problematic insects. When a chemical is used, it is solely to address a very specific problem; there is no incidental killing of beneficial insects.

Colourful ripening blueberries

The proof is in the deliciously sweet berries.

"For Oasis Berry Farms to grow the healthiest crops of blueberries, without depleting natural resources, I needed to set the farm up to generate its own renewable energy where possible," Rodolfo adds.

"There’s a right way and wrong way to go about most things and farming is a perfect example," he explains. "Farming can deplete the land, waste valuable resources and increase carbon emissions. I grew up in a farming family that practised sustainable methods long before the word sustainable became a ‘buzzword'. From a young age, I knew that farm practices needed to benefit the health of our environment, as well as be economically viable," he says

In addition to storing its own water, the farm also uses solar power and is powered by 32 solar panels, generating 11.54 mwh annually, consuming 4.8mwh and feeding 6.7mwh back to the national grid.

"Every decision we took, we thought through from a sustainable viewpoint, because every decision has far-reaching consequences. For example, if we were to use chemicals on our plants to kill harmful insects, we’d kill the beneficial bugs too. So we chose a more targeted approach to preserve the beneficial bugs. It takes longer and costs more initially, but ultimately saves you money, is kinder to the plant, the planet and the bugs! And the blueberries are sensational - a win win."

For five months of the year, they rent six hives of bees from Ben's Bees to help with pollinating their blueberry bushes. Bees and insects are responsible for pollinating approx. 65% of all flowering plants, including most commercial crops. They are by far the most important insect pollinators, with one-third of our food production reliant upon these industrious little creatures.

Bees busy at work pollinating blueberry flowers Bees hives are supplied by Bens Bees

Oasis Berry Farms sells 1 kg buckets of fresh blueberries directly to the public from the shed, (keeping food miles down) with a sticker encouraging the return of the bucket to refill and reuse. But fresh berries are seasonal, as is the income from them, so to keep the business economically viable and robust, once his blueberry bushes were mature to the point they were producing fruit, Rodolfo started to diversify.

Oasis Berry Farms has expanded its offerings to become a tourist attraction and encourage kid-friendly visitation. The farm now includes a Jurassic enclosure (designed and built by Rodolfo using bamboo he had grown), ideal for dino-loving kids and their families. The garden enclosure includes prehistoric plantings such as large clumping bamboo, bottle trees, varieties of flax, large clumping bamboo, zebra grass, ferns, yukka plants, giant birds of paradise … and then came the dinosaurs.

Oasis Berry Farms’ Jurassic enclosure is now home to 12 dinosaurs amongst the plants as well as a giant tortoise and some baby hatchlings. Children adore visiting and as they approach the enclosure, they'll hear the roar of the dinosaurs. Push open the gate and they're transported into a unique microclimate of Jurassic plantings and creatures, all of which teach the children about the type of environment the dinosaurs would have lived in when they roamed the earth.

One attraction led to another, and Oasis Berry Farms now has a Miniatures Garden (also designed and built by Rodolfo), buried treasure on an island accessed via a bridge, and mud maps are handed out to assist children in finding their way from one attraction to the next, as they hunt for tokens they can then swap for a prize to take home.

Sustainable initiatives continue to evolve as the Farm uses electronic gift vouchers to eliminate paper printing with more initiatives always in planning.

Kids (who get to visit the farm free of charge) leave wanting more and parents know that each time they return there'll be something new to enjoy, too.

Make it a sustainable adventure...