When are British strawberries best?

Posted on 11 May 2011 in Choose Seasonal | 7 comments

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Strawberry season has come early – woo, hooo!! We all love a strawb, don’t we?

British strawberry season normally starts at the beginning of June, but thanks to the consistently sunny weather this year and good levels of light, we have the best crop of British strawberries in 20 years. So, they’re sweeter, juicier and earlier than usual. Result!

Having naturally-grown British strawberries in May is unusual because they are only available for 6-8 weeks, from early June through to August. However, in the 1990’s, Supermarkets worked out if they put strawberries on the shelves all year round people will buy them. Now they are imported from the south of Spain or grown in plastic polytunnels or glasshouses in Kent or Hertfordshire.

That’s fine, but what Supermarkets don’t tell their customers about are the hidden costs of having strawberries in their stores out of season – so here’s a little hiSbe guide to strawb shopping…

1. British strawberries in season are best for taste, quality and the environment.

June-August

Think of them as a treat to look forward to (like the Spanish do… you won’t find strawberries in Spanish supermarkets out of season!) It’s about getting the best quality and taste.

Imported strawberries have to be picked while they’re slightly under-ripe to make sure they don’t go mushy on the journey. However, once they’re picked strawberries don’t ripen, so they’re harder, less nutritious and less tasty than seasonal British strawberries.

2. Outside June-August you have a choice between British & Spanish strawberries, but there are hidden costs to consider:-

Air-freighted Spanish strawberries rack up food miles and green house gas emissions. Also, WWF has shown that intensive strawberry cultivation has environmental costs in southern Spain, because it pollutes the region and drains vast amounts of their water. Then there’s a human cost to pay. Supermarkets force costs down so low that Spanish strawberry suppliers depend on low paid migrant workers who have few decent workers’ rights.

Out of season British strawberries are grown in heated plastic polytunnels or glass houses that protect the crop from the elements and give them enough artificial heat and light to extend the season from mid-April to mid-December. They have hidden environmental costs because they release even more green house gasses than transporting the fruit from Spain does. The industry is working on making these installations more sustainable in consultation with the Soil Association, but right now they are the least environmentally responsible choice.

At hiSbe we reckon it’s best to save strawberries for the natural season and we wish you a happy strawberry-filled Summer!


 

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7 comments

  1. Simon / June 12th, 2011 20:51

    Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – it seems you have swallowed the LEAF promise progaganda. The fact is that the farmers growing out of season strwaberries in the UK are members of LEAF which is a meaningless self appointed mark of validation created by the farmers that are awarding it to themselves. Their mega industrialiased ploytunnel hydroponic systems are gobbling up water, causing flooding and disfiguring the landscape in order to produce evr greater quantities of out of season strawberries in pointless competition with their counterparts in the Mediteranean. We have massive industrial, polytunnel operations around here which are LEAF accredir
    ted – whata j oke !!!!

    Reply

    • Elf / June 12th, 2011 21:06

      Well, I’ve been wondering why the first British Strawberries are not at a premium anymore and realise now that they are just the same as the Spanish and Moroccan, there is much made about British stawberries competing with imports but actually imports have stayed the same or increased.
      Simply said the supermarkets are in control and are changing our Britah landscape, we will look like southern Spain very soon unless planners and the NFU plus the farmers and growers stand up to these giants.

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    • Ruth / June 13th, 2011 15:28

      Hiya Simon, well we have to agree with you there on the out-of-season strawberries… they have a great big environmental footprint, which is why in this post we recommend sticking to in-season strawbs. However, for people who DO want to eat strawberries out of season we tried to make the choices clear in the blog.
      As for LEAF we respect a lot of the work they do to bring people closer to food and improve environmental standards in farming… but maybe they do get it wrong on strawberries. We have a contact at LEAF and we’ll ask for a response.

      Reply

  2. Tom @ LEAF / June 15th, 2011 9:02

    Simon, fruit farmers who are LEAF Marque certified have complied with the high standards set by LEAF and independently audited by experienced third parties. There are considerable environmental benefits to growing soft fruit using polytunnels. These include a reduced need for pesticides and the promotion of favourable conditions for beneficial insects such as pollinators. The fruit is not ‘out of season’. By protecting the plants from frost, wind and rain, plants can emerge from dormancy earlier in the spring and continue to produce fruit into the early autumn, so the natural season for British soft fruit is extended.

    Encouraged by LEAF management plans for water, waste, energy and biodiversity, these farmers recycle 100% of the plastic used as covers and nothing is taken to landfill. The plants are precision-irrigated using trickle irrigation – far from profligate use of a precious resource. Instead of allowing flooding, water is collected for irrigation via drainage systems, or recycled into irrigation reservoirs which double as wildlife features. Carbon and energy use is also carefully monitored and plans are put in place to reduce it year by year.

    Farmers, and indeed all of us, need innovative, sustainable growing techniques to meet the challenges of population growth, climate change and environmental protection. Food can be produced at the same time as benefiting the environment. Polytunnels, used in a balanced and sustainable way are part of the solution. Meeting environmental needs and modern fruit growing are definitely not mutually exclusive.

    Reply

    • Simon / June 27th, 2011 15:26

      So what is the difference between ‘out of season’ and ‘extended season’ – a matter of weasel words. Of course trickle irrigation uses less water than spraying it on from above when half of it evaporates before even hitting the ground. What’s happening here in Kent is that there is a massive concentration of ploytunnels which require trickle irrigation(I understand at least 1000 galls per acre per day) one grower has about 430 acres of tunnels so needs around half a million galls of water a day – and they aren’t the only ones. Most of the fields previously grew crops which didn’t require irrigation. This is already and over abstracted area and because water is in short supply they are now looking to drill their own bore holes which will place further strains on the ground water sources. They make virtually no attempt to harvest water from the tunnels which cause localised flooding and soil erosion – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkgiCMEeyTQ. The fields around here are full of little scraps of blue plastic about which the Environment Agency has warned the farm, but the plastic is still there. This is a farm which is LEAF accredited so it’s no wonder I’m slightly cynical about what the organistion stands for and who it represents. No calculations seem to exist for Global Warming Potential of this means of food production which is a hydroponic system making no use of the soil, but has plants in grow bags containing Coir from India underneath tunnels constucted from steel and plastic and fed by a massive irrigitation system. The overall carbon footprint of these systems which must be considerable. Since English strawberries hit the supermarket shelves in late April/early May this year they have been on constant special offer, in one local superkarket Kent strawberries were just a pound a punnet. The major supermarkets are playing the foreign growers off against the UK growers, forcing down the price year on year and not reducing the overall imports. UK growers are between a rock and a hard place, to stay in business they have to do the supermarkets bidding and produce ever more quantities or ever cheaper fruit to the detriment of the overal environment. We need a proper debate on these issues not simply a regurgitation of a set of unsubstantiated claims by the farming industry PR people under the guise of LEAF.

      Reply

  3. George Fee / October 11th, 2012 10:24

    On the matter of the blue plastics all over the strawberry fields in England, you may note that you have the company there who sends a chemical additive all over the world that makes the plastic biodegrade in a few months. We use it in South Africa, and the big users are in South America. The co is located in Borehamwood London called Symphony Environmental Limited.

    Reply

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