16 August 2002

STRAWBERRYFARE IS ANUNDERCOVER JOB

Its strawberry time right

through to October on a

Scottish farm as

Sue Clapham found

out when she visited

the Nairn family

IS it possible to get tired of strawberries? "I probably wouldnt order a strawberry dessert if we were out for a meal," smiles farmers wife Julie Nairn. "But I do enjoy eating them."

Which is probably a good thing because for Julie and her husband, Robert, strawberries have become a full-time occupation at their farm near Peterculter in Aberdeenshire.

The arable side of the 52.5ha (130-acre) holding, which was originally farmed by Julies grandfather, is still worked by her parents, while Robert grows the strawberries, as well as raspberries and blueberries.

"It was mums idea initially," says Julie, who is a primary school teacher and lecturer in childcare. "She saw a Landward programme about six years ago and thought we could do that. At the time, she was envisaging a little polytunnel in a corner somewhere, but it has sort of grown."

The Nairns now have about 1ha (2.5 acres) under cover. They grow Elsanta, a large, sweet variety with a glossy appearance and good shelf life, which can be harvested from May right through until October. The strawberries are grown in peat bags off the ground at shoulder height, which helps with pest control and makes the berries much easier to pick.

"Weve always sold the fruit to local independent outlets," says Julie. "Then I gave up work to have the children and was looking for a way to make an income from home so a farm shop seemed a good way of developing the business."

Thus Strawberry Grange was born and while Bruce, aged five, and nine-month-old Hannah are already enthusiastic consumers of the strawberries, Julie has used her professional experience to develop ideas and activities which, hopefully, will introduce other children to the delights – and health benefits – of fine food.

"We held a special event for Fathers Day, for example, and we run themed competitions on a fairly regular basis, like bringing along an edible necklace for the Taste of Summer weekend or the Red, White and Blue competition for our Stars and Stripes weekend."

And, of course, Strawberry Stan – the strawberry farmer mouse in his trademark dungarees – is always on hand to help. Stan also guides visitors round the Strawberry Grange web-site, where he stars each month in his own story along with his friends Nicky and Tam, the scarecrows.

Adults, meanwhile, can enjoy browsing around the shop, which, as well as the soft fruit and an exclusive sparkling strawberry wine, also boasts a selection of other locally produced food and drink.

&#42 Year-round income

"To make a go of it I had to have something which could potentially provide a year-round income," says Julie. "So I have included things like herbal teas, health supplements and remedies, and organic dried fruits and nuts and pulses, as well as bedding plants, herbs and hanging baskets, all of which are proving very popular. People seem to like finding a wide range of things on offer in one place."

On top of that the shop serves as a gallery for artists and crafts people, showcasing and selling their work.

Julies obviously not one to rest on her laurels. When shes not dreaming up further adventures for Stan, she is planning more events to bring in the customers or making up bespoke gift baskets, hampers and boxes.

But it all comes back to strawberries and Julies always on the look-out for new recipes and ideas. "We do everything from tarts and meringues to trifles and jelly. One of our earliest successes was simply dipping the strawberries in chocolate. And our strawberry kebabs – strawberries and marshmallows – are going down very well."

As Stan likes to say: "Delicious and good for you."

Inquiries: Tel (01224-735699 or

www.strawberrygrange.co.uk

Strawberry Grange`s

Strawberry & Peach Smoothie

Serves 2

Remove stones and skin from 2 ripe peaches. Place in blender with 250g (9oz) hulled strawberries, a 450g tub of natural yogurt, preferably organic, and 2

tablespoons runny honey.

Blend until smooth

and then serve.