Strawberry picking boom in Yorkshire as families turn to more traditional days out

Once a preserve of the great British summer, the simple act of strawberry picking had seemed for a time to have fallen from fashion.

Rory Kemp, owner of Kemp Farms in Horsforth. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Rory Kemp, owner of Kemp Farms in Horsforth. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Now the region's farmers are reporting a steady return, as families find joy in foraging for fruit, amid a tangle of sun-ripened runners.

Last year saw a sudden boom in British strawberries sales, according to findings from the nation's trade bodies.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

For farmer Tom Spilman, of Church Farm in Sessay near Thirsk, his Pick Your Own (PYO) fields have seen business like never before.

The great British tradition of Pick your Own strawberries has seen a huge resurgence this summer as families turn to more traditional pursuits. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

"Last year was the best we've had, by a long way," said Mr Spilman, whose father Richard began growing strawberries here 50 years ago, and who now cares for 15 acres of runners.

"This year it's already been so busy as well. It's looking to be a good summer."

Read More

Read More
Helen Skelton explains how she surived lockdown with two small boys in Leeds

At Spilmans the strawberries are hand tended, with birds like partridge and skylarks nesting among the rows.

Farmer Tom Spilman at his pick your own site in Sessay, near Thirsk. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The growing season got off to a tricky start this year, he said. In April alone, the farm saw 15 frosts, followed by one of the rainiest Mays on record. From one extreme to another, June saw endless days of sunshine, with the result being fields full of berries.

Early last season, with restrictions in place, Mr Spilman had noticed a rising number of family visitors. This year they are returning, he said.

"It's getting out in the fresh air, and it's a good thing to do as a family," he said.

Rising trend

Rory Kemp, owner of Kemp Farms in Horsforth. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

At Kemps Farm in Horsforth, Rory Kemp's sons Joe, 27 and Will, 25, will be the fourth generation of his family to tend the land, and now a second farm setting in Malton.

When he graduated college in 1984 he had set up some Pick Your Own fields with the support of his dairy farmer father David, and it’s now grown to 12 acres spread out over 30.

It had boomed through the 1980s, he said, with his traditional clientele being an often older generation of women who were collecting for homemade jams.

But in the 1990s its popularity had waned, as a generation seemed to lose interest.

Farmer Tom Spilman at his pick your own site in Sessay, near Thirsk. Image: Jonathan Gawthorpe

"Now, with a growing awareness of food miles, and with people wanting to know where their food comes from, it's all changed again," said Mr Kemp.

"A lot of people appreciate that open space, and a naturally grown berry.”

Popularity

When restrictions were brought in, ticketing was introduced at the Horsforth farm to try and control numbers.

While it has meant fewer people and sales, it has revolutionised systems for the better, Mr Kemp has said, as nobody now finds they have run out of fruit.

"Every small child still tries to find the biggest one, they absolutely love it," he said. "Our strawberries are a lot tastier than they would ever be grown in a polytunnel or a glasshouse.

"A lot of people remember doing it with their parents, or their grandparents, and now they are coming back.

"Covid hit, and our habits have changed, but it was going that way anyway," he added. "It's a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon."

Strawberry sales

According to trade body British Summer Fruits, Britons are buying more strawberries.

Last year saw a 10 per cent rise in expenditure to £772m, with some 147,300 tonnes of strawberries sold.

This year's berries will be bigger than usual, it believes, given a later start and slower ripening in the wake of a cooler winter and spring.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you'll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.