“When we moved people would say ‘oh you’re really brave’, but I think they were really thinking, ‘you’re really stupid!” says Russell, who, along with his wife Janie, is now the proud owner of 10 acre property including a berry farm, café and shop full of local produce.
During the berry season, from November through to April, Russell and Janie welcome hundreds of visitors who come to Gentle Annie to pick berries, eat berries, buy berries or do all three. The café sells produce from the farm, including Russell’s personal favourite, berry pancakes.
“The farm is close to Lorne and on the way to the Great Ocean Road, so on a non-beach day, we often get hundreds of visitors a day.”
Russell says his berries are a whole lot better than the packaged berries you get in the shops.
“They are produced pesticide-free, so they taste like real fruit.”
But berries are not the only attraction to Gentle Annie. Their property is nestled in Pennyroyal Valley, in the Otways, near the headwaters of the Barwon River, where clouds often shroud the dense forest and the air is sweet with the smell of eucalyptus.
Russell has seen his stretch of the creek dramatically improve after the local Landcare groups got together to pull out the willow trees that were choking the creek and replaced them with natives.
“As landholders, we need to control erosion around the creek, by planting grasses and herbs, and fencing out livestock which damage the banks with their hooves.”
The cool, wet climate of the Otways is perfect for growing berries. However, the Carringtons have experienced seasons drier than any other. They say the climate is changing.
“It used to rain a lot more. Spring is now coming a lot earlier than it used to and the summers are getting hotter each year.”
Russell uses water from Pennyroyal Creek to grow his berries. He conserves water on his farm by mulching as much as possible, using a drip irrigation system and tank water for drinking.
But if the rain doesn’t fall, there is no water left to produce the berries.
Russell says he considers the effects of global warming to be the biggest threat to both the viability of his farm; and the health of the Barwon River.
“It is affecting the flow of the river. Last summer, Pennyroyal Creek stopped flowing altogether. I don’t know what happened to the platypus or fish in the creek.”
Gentle Annie Berry Farm is open every day from November through to April. See www.gentleannie.com.au for more information.