Strawberry Farmers Create Opportunities Despite Lockdown


For naturopath Mandy Schultz and her husband Adrian, a horticulturalist and President of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, the past few years have been tough. 

Instead of backing out of strawberries the couple have sought out other ways to get their crops picked, their business thriving and connected with families each week as they open their gate.

Mandy and Adrian Schultz

For many Queenslanders the Melbourne lockdown seems worlds away, but Moreton Bay strawberry farmers are feeling the pinch now more than ever.

Luva Berry is a mixed berry, fingerlime and herb farm located about an hour north of Brisbane, near Moreton Bay and, reflecting on the year that has been, Mandy laughs:

 “It’s just been one of those years, I think as farmers you just get used to them, but the challenges are no longer just about weather events anymore.” 

After the massive oversupply in the strawberry market in 2018, then the worker shortage of 2020 that’s only been exacerbated in 2021, Luva Berry strawberry farm has had to shift far away from the typical background for a family-run farming business, but that’s what makes it work. 

For naturopath Mandy Schultz and her husband Adrian, a horticulturalist and President of the Queensland Strawberry Growers Association, the past few years have been tough. 

But, instead of backing out of strawberries completely or ramping up the scale of their operations to better weather the fluctuations in the market, like many other small-scale growers have had to do, the couple have found a different groove, one that allows the customer experience to hit a little bit differently. 

“We were just getting ready for the Moreton Bay Food and Wine Festival and then we went into two weeks of lockdown and then we went into all the complications of Victoria’s lockdown and it did impact our fresh sales,” Mandy said.

 

“It just got to the point where our buyers just said ‘don’t send fruit in, we can’t move it.’”

Mandy said
Randall Wilksch at home in South Australia

Lockdowns have meant that Mandy and Adrian have continued to adapt their business, both in produce but also how they operate.

They decreased their operation size and increased their farmgate system, encouraging local consumers to spend the day on their property picking berries and eating them while sitting on the grass in the sun. 

In a time where many of us have come to appreciate the little things, for Mandy, seeing kids and families enjoying themselves and trying something new is the icing on the cake.

“That feedback when people do say they’ve had such a great day here and ‘your farm is so beautiful.’ It kind of just makes me love it even more.”

“It’s my favourite part of my working life, when on a Saturday or Sunday the families come, the kids come, they just love it. It’s as simple as fresh air, sunshine in a really pleasant surroundings.”

The added bonus of this is that there is less pressure on finding a workforce for picking season and less strawberries waste in the fields. 
But diversifying their business is not a new thing for the couple. 

In 2017, they weren’t satisfied with the waste being produced from berries that weren’t quite for the fresh product market.

(A slight aside), Did you know that strawberries and other berries that are gathered after rain are often thrown away?

For the team at Luva Berry, they wanted to find out a better way to utilise these products that are so often wasted, and so they began freeze-drying their berries to be used in different products and freezing fresh berries for jam-makers and other creative cooks. 

Worker shortage, prices in supermarkets, what can consumers do?

 “When you see a price that seems economical to you, that obviously means that it could be a stress like oversupply,” Mandy said.

“So when it’s in season, buy lots while it’s plentiful and then find other uses for it.”

“What I’d like to get across to people is be a little bit less convenient, and be a bit more aware of what you do at home with your food.”

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