When Shane and Alica Barwell set up their hydroponic herb business in 2018 they had no way of knowing what was just around the corner. But when Covid-19 blindsided their flourishing business they – like many small businesses – were faced with a choice: pack it all in, or pivot. Having invested heavily in their hydroponic setup at West Eyreton, packing it all in was unfeasible, so they turned to their experimental hydroponic strawberry plot for inspiration.
”Pre-Covid, we had a small strawberry crop in with the herbs as an experiment,” explains Shane. “Our first crop of hydroponic strawberries was extremely well received so it seemed the obvious answer to a hydroponic crop post-Covid.” It wasn’t only their friends and family who loved the sweet, juicy strawberries the couple were growing. They also approached a greengrocer in Christchurch who, with 30 years’ industry experience behind her, proclaimed Mountain View Produce strawberries the best she’d ever tasted.
The Barwells attribute the superior taste and quality of their strawberries to the hydroponic process. Growing in natural water-based nutrient solution means the plants have no nutrient stressors and can focus all their energy into flavour development. Growing under cover also means the strawberries attract fewer pests and diseases, which means no nasty chemical sprays. And of course, the couple’s meticulous care contributes to the overall product quality – Shane picks, grades and punnets the berries himself using gloves. Each berry is hand cut off the plant to minimise bruising, and the fruit is only harvested when ripe, then packed and transported immediately to maintain freshness and taste.
It’s no wonder customers are already asking for Mountain View Produce strawberries by name. “Being a new business in the highly competitive strawberry market, we hadn’t expected brand recognition to really start for a couple of seasons. In our first full time growing season, customers are already asking for our brand over other existing brands. We’re pretty stoked about that.”
Why North Canterbury? Shane is a Rangiora lad born and bred. Both of our families reside in North Canterbury, so it was a no brainer.
Favourite thing to do in North Canterbury? Can’t decide between hanging out at home and going fishing. Home is our happy place. We have 2 dogs, a cat, sheep, turkeys and pigs on the property. We love waking up and watching the sun rise and set with our stunning mountain views. Fishing is our fave thing to do (haven’t had much free time to indulge this passion lately).
Your top three North Canterbury brands? Black Estate Wines, Harris Meats, Karikaas Cheese (preferably all consumed at the same sitting!!)