Bundaberg strawberry farmer Tina McPherson wasn’t born into the ‘community of exceptional women’ she considers a privilege to be a part of.
That community is of rural, regional and remote women across Queensland who, like Tina, are making their own impact and drawing from their own exceptional legacies and stories.
Tina’s own story is rich with travel and farming across multiple continents, education, story-telling, people and rural experiences, many of which are ongoing.
The family horticulture agritourism business, Tinaberries, is nestled in the fertile, tepid agricultural region of Bargara in the Wide Bay, quite literally ‘making sweet things happen’.
Tinaberries is known for its fresh strawberries and ice cream alongside a conscious focus on sustainability. Fruit produced on the property is destined for high-street grocers in Melbourne and Queensland, targeted towards the discerning buyer who doesn’t mind paying for more expensive and higher quality produce. Every piece is hand planted, hand picked and hand packed.
Tine says the strawberries’ value comes from their exceptional flavour.
Tina’s grandfather encouraged her personal love and professional success for agriculture – despite the two not knowing each other very well.
“I credit my love of the land and farming to my paternal grandfather, he was an agronomist with CSRIO and then a farmer in his own right in Central Queensland,” Tina said.
“I didn’t know him well as he passed away when I was quite young. I think however it must have been somewhere in my genes! The flame was kept alive by family in Central Queensland who I spent all available holidays with and visiting family farming friends.
“I spend my whole life looking for the next great and adventurous life experience and I think it can only be said that all life experiences lead us to where we are today.
“I have just chosen for my life experiences to be a little bit more road less travelled and adventurous rather than routine and expected.”
Tina went to a rural university and studied English Literature.
“That has of course been invaluable in my farming career,” she says.
“When I left university I went west. Back then the big ag entities didn’t have training pathways like they do today. I am envious of the opportunities open to girls looking for a career in ag today.
“I thought because I couldn’t fence and was only marginally competent on a motorbike that my only path was to be govie. I’m not sorry – I had a blast!
“I’m sad though that I thought the only pathway into farming was to be born into it. I know now that this isn’t the case.
“I married a rural banker who wanted to go back to the family farm. He was a New Zealand dairy farmer. This began my exciting life as a farmer. We’ve farmed in four countries and I have learned that the opportunities in farming are endless. They are what you make them.”
Farming by the beach is an important part of Tinaberries, as is the farm’s connection to the local region. The family farmed across the globe, including in New Zealand and Uruguay before settling home in Queensland.
That was close to 20 years ago, and market failures, drought and the ‘needle crisis’ later, they’re still here.
“I love the hot summers, the warm winters, the clear days, the starry nights, the beach, the reef and the proximity to everything I need,” Tina says.
“There are a number of reasons I love this industry and our role in it. I get to work and plan and manage with my truly delightful husband who I am passionate about. I get to be outdoors a lot of the time; I am my own boss and I get to manage my own time for better or for worse.
“Together we get to produce something exceptional and that we have a lot of pride in. We made a conscious decision to farm together so we could bring up a family and work in our own business together. There have been hiccups and changes of direction along the way, but on the whole we have stuck to the plan.
“One of the most rewarding parts is producing something so delicious that people think they are quite literally the very best strawberry they have ever tasted – what a compliment!”
Tina says the focus on sustainable farming is perhaps more topical considering where they live and farm.
“Our proximity to the Great Barrier Reef and the intensive farming in our area drives the profile of sustainable farming here,” she says.
“I believe though, that we and most other farmers aim to farm as sustainably as possible. We care for our natural environments, our biodiversity, our natural resources. It is the care of these that enable us to continue to farm and produce. Consumers are more aware now too so marketing and talking about your farming practices is advantageous.”
Off the farm Tina and her family are avid travellers with plans to lead a business designed to provide opportunities for women in farming to travel together to visit and learn from other women in farming globally. The pandemic affected Arable Adventures but Tina says it will return soon enough.
“My husband says I’m happiest when I have plans to go somewhere or I’m actually going somewhere and he’s right,” she said.
“I could explore every corner of the globe, take people with me and share lots more wonderful experiences with my family and friends. Oh what adventures we would have!”
The love of travel and connection to people is something Tina holds close to her heart, and finds through the power of community, connection and networks – especially among rural, regional and remote women.
“I grew up reading wonderful stories of pioneering women battling against the odds both in Queensland and beyond. I was envious. I may have been a little starry eyed as well. I had my chance when we farmed in Uruguay to have a little taste of being a pioneer – I washed for our then family of four on a wash board for many months. I watched our neighbours take their horse and cart to town,” Tina said.
“The women of rural, regional and remote Queensland are resilient, they are fun, they relish a challenge. It is a true privilege to be counted as member of a community of such exceptional women.
“And the strength of these women exists because of the fact they are indeed a community. Women’s networks in all their forms are both the backbone and the soul of rural, regional and remote populations of women.
“I love family, people, travel and farming – in no particular order. A combination of these passions drive my energy.
“I read a quote many years ago that became my life mantra – “Live life as an exclamation, not an explanation!”. Thank you to Isaac Newton for this quote!”
By Emma Clarke