AFTER spending the past 17 years growing berries, Heidi and Ben Rosewarne are moving on.
Although their lifestyle will change as they swap life at Blueberry Corner for a new consulting venture, their passion remains the same. “We’re not finished with the blueberry industry, not by a long shot,” Heidi says.
“We are still very interested in berries. We’ll be in this, I think, for the rest of our lives.”
An offer from Kawerau-based Maori Investments to purchase Blueberry Corner led the Rosewarnes to reconsider their career options and sell the business.
They have started a consulting business for blueberry growers and say their job file is already growing with a list of clients. “It’s going to be great to go around the country and help other growers and stay on the blueberry path because it’s very much our passion,” she says.
Although the couple will continue to live in the Whakatane district, it will be a difficult transition. They have built their life around Blueberry Corner, which began selling eclusively to overseas markets, but has become popular with Eastern Bay people.
“We have pretty much done what customers have asked and we’re so thankful for their input because that was what encouraged us to create what we have. Because of public demand, it evolved from a tiny roadside stall into this.”
Dealing with the unpredictability of nature can sometimes make orchardists and farmers alike want to pack it in but, like their counterparts in agriculture, they always have hope for the future.
“One year there are weather events where you get a hiding and you start thinking what you’re doing it for, but then the next year’s brilliant and you reckon, ‘oh I’ll stay on a few more years’.”
“We started with one orchard, then Ben bought another one and I stressed out thinking, ‘why have we done this? have we pushed too hard?’ I’d get over that and then Ben would buy another one and I’d stress again. I don’t think we ever thought that this would be where our plan would lead us.”
They have grown attached to their customers and speak of them as one would of family members.
“We’ve met so many people who started as customers but became friends. It’s so nice to open every year and see all those familiar faces again.”
Their children, Jessie and Tommy, have grown up with the orchard and Heidi says their surroundings helped them find their own passions.
“They’ve gone from being kids playing around in the orchard to working and being actively involved in the business. Tommy started by baking in our little kitchen. Now he’s a trained patisserie chef and will be actively looking for his big break. That’s his new journey. Jessie funded her university education by working her way up in the shop to being manager and a top barista. I think it was a big learning curve for her.”
The Rosewarnes have a reputation for their calm and caring friendliness with employees.
“What’s been most gratifying is our connections with the great people who have worked for us. They still come in over the summer and see how we’re going. It good not to have spread any ill will over the years,” Ben says.
Because of the type of work, many of their workers are young.
“The young people we have met when they were 15, 16 or 17 years-olds, picking fruit and then went on to lead their lives – when they come back as young adults – it’s very cool to see them grown-up, some with kids,” Heidi says.
She says their new consulting business, Team Blueberry, will also reflect their philosophy that has proven to be a success.
“Our bottom line always was that we wanted to grow quality berries and do it ethically. All the rest of it just grew out of that,” she says.