A berry nice day out.

Strawberry season has finally arrived in the UK, and to celebrate, we took a trip to see our strawberry growers in Worcestershire. Here’s Pete’s diary from the day: 

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We wanted to make the most of our visit, which meant waking up at 5am to catch a very early train – getting a flavour of farm life already! Luckily the London-to-Worcestershire line is a good one for pretty countryside views, so with coffees in hand, we were wide awake in no time, and looking forward to our day.

Once we arrived at the farm, it was straight off to strawb school: we learned all about the berries, how they’re grown, and more. We spent a lot of time inside polytunnels, where the magic happens. 

There are two main types of tunnels on the farm: Spanish-style, which are temporary structures with rain covers over the top, and Portuguese-style, which are more permanent, with thicker plastic covering. While the Portuguese-style tunnels are more robust, and therefore less susceptible to flooding or wind damage, both types are vital for growing British strawberries. 

As it turns out, it would be almost impossible to sell UK-grown strawberries without tunnels, because they’d be so exposed to the famously, er, temperamental British weather. Growers can control conditions in the tunnels, though, so the fruit can thrive – they can focus on growing the tastiest strawbs possible, instead of working to make them resilient and hardy. We all got to try a few throughout the day, let me tell you: that tastiness really shines through.

The weather isn’t the only challenge for our strawberry growers, though. Surging energy costs and continuing labour shortages pose a real threat to farms everywhere – and then there are threats to the strawberries themselves. Insects and pests can cause havoc, and controlling them is another cost for growers to manage.

The growers highlighted one particularly troublesome insect: the spotted wing drosophila fly, originally from southeast Asia, which first appeared in Britain around 2012. They’re capable of laying eggs inside strawberries and devastating whole crops. The farmers have invested in loads of mesh barriers to protect the tunnels, as well as setting up attractants in hedges to lead the flies into traps away from the crops. Having set up just 10 when they first clocked the flies, the farmers have now installed roughly 1200 traps. That’s some serious strawb security.

Towards the end of our visit, we were hearing all about why strawberries can be left at risk of going to waste, getting the full picture from growers for whom the stakes are highest. They told us all about how strict retailers’ guidelines are, meaning heaps of perfectly delicious strawberries are deemed “too big” or “too small”. Sometimes all it takes for them to be “too odd” is that they’re a little too green. We’ll take on any fruit that needs a home, whenever we can. 

It was a real eye-opener to learn just how difficult it is to meet supermarket specifications. Having learned how hard it can be to grow strawberries in the first place, up against poor weather and pesky insects, I boarded our train back to London with stacks of scrumptious strawbs to enjoy on the journey. Talking to growers in person left me feeling even more committed to our food waste-fighting mission. Stopping food waste: good for the environment and for your taste buds. It’s a no-brainer.