Farmers’ markets have done much more than help blueberry farmer Otto Saeck make a living – they’ve made him change his whole approach to farming.

The Brooklet-based co-owner of blueberry orchard, Blueberry Fields, says putting a face to the people who are eating your product gives you a whole new perspective.

“When we started off, all we were dealing with were the wholesalers,” he said.

“I was producing what the wholesalers wanted and they just wanted something that looked good. They didn’t care how much chemical was on it or how it was grown or anything like that, as long as they could make money out of it.”

All that changed ten years ago when Otto and wife Lynette started selling their fruit at the local farmers’ markets.

“Going to the farmers’ market, you’re talking to the people that are eating the fruit and you get their feedback on what they want,” Otto said.

That feedback has seen the couple switch from traditional blueberry farming methods to a more environmentally sustainable approach, with a focus on soil health, compost, minimal use of chemicals and biological pest controls. Otto says adding organic mater to the soil has not only improved the health of the orchard, it has also drastically cut their water consumption: “as we’ve improved our soil I reckon we’ve cut our water use by half.”

It’s a win-win situation for their customers and for the long-term health of the orchard, which Otto and Lynette bought almost 30 years ago as a run-down dairy farm.

The 100-acre orchard now contains more than six varieties of blueberries that ripen at different times, allowing Otto and Lynette to extend their picking season to almost nine months of the year.

Each variety has a subtly different flavour, and sampling each of them fresh from the bush throughout the year is a perk of the job Otto never tires of: “I like them all, and the variation in all of them,” he said.

• Words and pics by Kate O’Neill