Deliciously British - premium strawberries grown in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 July 2020
Lockdown has created huge issues for Yorkshire’s growers, none more so than Annabel Makin-Jones who is juggling the strawberry harvest with a kitchen table classroom.
Annabel Makin-Jones is a farmer and an optimist. Even in the face of the seismic challenges brought on by coronavirus, she is ‘getting on it’, preparing to harvest the crops of 2020 strawberries.
Farmer, mother, entrepreneur, Annabel has had a full plate of responsibilities since the crisis hit earlier this year. Annabel is the woman behind Annabel’s Deliciously British, a brand of premium English strawberries grown on her family’s Yorkshire farm.
Berry season is always a busy time but lockdown has brought with it the struggles of finding a seasonal workforce and at the same time home schooling her youngsters, Oscar and Jemima.
‘The run up to berry season is always hectic, but this season is one for the record books. There have been so many complexities to contend with. We’ve adapted, planned, negotiated and coped with multiple challenges. I am proud to say, we’re ready! We started to pick the first crop on the 21st of May’, she says.
‘Farming is never straightforward at the best of times; it’s been stressful adapting our plans. All this has been done during lockdown with two young kids being home-schooled, that’s been the toughest challenge, keeping their schoolwork and schedule on track,’ laughs Annabel. ‘I have a new respect for teachers!’
Challenges on the farm outside of Leeds have been two-fold for Annabel; ensure she has a healthy workforce to pick her crop as well as find a market for her berries. Annabel grows premium berries for Michelin-starred chefs and high-end restaurants as well as selected premium retailers like Booths and Ocado.
‘First up, we had to make sure we had a healthy workforce. Berries require lots of love and careful picking, each tonne requires 120–160 hours of labour. Preserving and looking after that workforce is vital,’ she says.
‘Our teams come to us every year and they work as part of an extended family, so keeping them well is a top priority. We devised a meticulous system of keeping our teams in communities of eight teams of ten for socialising, laundry and shopping. We’ve done their shopping and washing to help keep them shielded, safe and healthy. If one team came down with symptoms and needed to isolate, we could rely on the other teams to fill in. Everyone is fit and well and ready to go. We are recruiting locally as well, and will continue to do so throughout the summer.’
With berries ripening, the usual market for their berries such as food service business vanished overnight as the country went into lockdown.
‘The loss of food service overnight and one of our key wholesalers was a blow, we’d worked really hard to establish relationships with Harrods, the Ritz and relationships with Michelin-starred chefs like Andrew Pern and Tom Aiken; my heart breaks for these businesses. The hospitality sector will need a great deal of support when they reopen. There is quite a lot of ingenuity in the industry, but that whole market will operate differently. Food businesses are very adaptable, the resilience in the food industry is admirable,’ she adds.
Diversified markets and good relationships with retailers stood Annabel in good stead. Last year her berries were the best-selling line in the whole of Booths and good communication with the fresh produce buyer helped to fill that market.
‘Something like 30% of the meals are taken outside the home, but in lockdown all that business has shifted to retailers. We work with both Booths and Ocado, both businesses have done well to serve and increase their customer base during the crisis. Fresh British berries are core lines for summer and we’re pleased to increase orders and their support is valued.
‘But farmers are a tough, resilient lot; we just get on with it and feed the nation, it’s what we do.’