When it comes to growing strawberries, Wamuran's Mandy Schultz believes that innovation, passion and optimism are as essential as soil and water.
It’s an outlook which helped her and her family get through a horrible season last year, with low prices, heartbreaking waste and the tampering crisis taking its toll.
But instead of lamenting their losses, Mandy, Adrian 's husband and his parents, Bob and Joy, see the experience as an opportunity to learn how to reduce waste, and have even developed new products which can extend the season beyond last harvest.
“Last year started bad from the beginning because there was an oversupply, prices came in at the worst level ever,” Mandy says. “There was nothing good about it, except what we achieved.
“I think the tampering crisis had a positive impact. There was nothing good about losing money or farmers being under stress, but Australia had to address food safety and (the damaging use of social media).”
The result was changes in the law and government bodies were forced to act.
The crisis also prompted consumers to act — supporting farmers by continuing to buy fruit, eating more than 14,000 strawberry sundaes in Brisbane’s King George Square, and even picking their own during the Schultz’s LuvaBerry farm open days.
“I spent the day (in King George Square) thanking people. You know, that was really nice for people to care,” Mandy says.
The family has been farming strawberries for over 13 years and is heartened by the support they’ve received, and a great start to this season.
They’re also making moves to determine their own destiny.
“I started playing around with dehydration, and came up with things as a naturopath trying to see what else we could do with strawberries,” Mandy says.
The result is a range of freeze-dried products and powders that can be used as snacks and in baking.
Since the end of 2017 they have been freezing-drying berries but this year they will add two new products to their range.
Berry bites are made from strawberries, bananas and coconut yoghurt, and are a dairy-free, gluten-free sweet treat for children.
Luvabites are aimed at busy adults and made using the same ingredients, but with crushed macadamia nuts added.
“I think freeze-dried makes food fun,” Mandy says. “I never stop opening up a pack and saying, `that smells good’.”
In an attempt to reduce waste, they also sell frozen berries in 1.5kg bags, using berries gathered from the fields after rain, which are perfect for cooking.
So, with this season ramping up, the family currently tends to 130,000 plants — down from last year's 190,000.
Mandy says that’s all they could afford to plant after last season, but already things are looking up.
“I think we manage because we’re not afraid to adapt and experiment and change how we do things, but ultimately we’re optimistic people,” she says.
“Brand strawberry has never been stronger.”
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