MORE than two million strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and other varieties of berry will have filled baskets on a Borders farm by the end of this year’s soft fruit season – such is the popularity of the pick-your-own phenomena in this region.
Based at Rutherford Farm, near Maxton, Border Berries has been going since the 1960s under the auspices of the Johnson family. The business is now run by Harriet and Alistair Busby, with Harriet’s father, Martin Johnson, still closely involved.
Thanks to this year’s very warm spring temperatures, the soft fruit season at Rutherford Farm will open next week – a week earlier than normal.
Harriet explained that the business was originally set up to supply fruit on a wholesale basis to businesses such as those involved in jam-making.
“It was 20 years ago that we started selling our surplus fruit from a stall we would set up at Charlesfield road end near St Boswells,” Harriet told TheSouthern this week.
“Back then we didn’t think people would be prepared to drive the five minutes outside of St Boswells to spend time picking their own fruit on the farm. But now, however, the pick-your-own side of the business is by far the most profitable and we only do pick-to-order for a small number of local hotels, restaurants and businesses.”
The bulk of the soft fruit crop at Rutherford Farm is strawberries and raspberries, with around half-a-million of the former being picked by the end of their season at the close of July.
Strawberries tend to be the first berry variety to be picked, followed by gooseberries and then raspberries, with the overall picking season usually coming to a close by mid-August. However, Border Berries also grows Tayberries, black and red currants and brambles (blackberries).
“We also have a ‘dig-your-own’ area for potatoes this year, as we felt a lot of people might not have space in their gardens to grow their own potatoes, but might like the experience of at least digging up their own.”
However, Harriet says what is proving most popular this year is gooseberries. “We just can’t seem to grow enough of them. Over the last four or five years they have become increasingly popular, probably due to a large number of features in magazines praising their qualities.
“That kind of publicity always helps spark increased interest from people.”
Asked why picking you own fruit has grown in popularity during the last two decades, Harriet says it’s a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of inexpensive hours for a family.
“We see everyone who comes in and chat to lots. Many of them are more aware of what produce is grown locally and keen to eat more of that.
“The Border Berries brand has been around for a while now and we have a very loyal core of customers who return year after year.
“Those who come range from people like jam-makers who want to select their own fruit and some are grandparents who bring their grandchildren for an enjoyable day out – we also have a cafe on site and are quite happy for people who are picking their own fruit to bring their own picnics and make it a real family day.
“There are a lot more people in the Borders nowadays, many of these with younger families and they are often looking for things to do with their kids.
“We also feel we are very competitively priced when compared with soft fruit in supermarkets, especially this year when soft fruit prices have risen as a whole.
“By the end of this season more than two million berries will have been picked at Rutherford.”
Asked if they ever had problems of the sort documented in England where groups of people were turning up to eat more berries than they were paying for, Harriet says that doesn’t arise in the Borders.
“Of course, people will eat some of the berries – when I was a kid I never got tired of strawberries or raspberries – but you can only eat so many and little kids will only maybe manage half-a-dozen or so and we don’t mind that.
“But what was reported to have happened in England, where people were sitting down to some form of freebie cream tea-type affair without paying for their berries, doesn’t happen in a rural area like the Borders.
“I don’t think Borders people would be that cheeky.”