ABC Rural / By Keely Johnson
No-one was around to pick the hundreds of thousands of strawberries on Anthony Sarks's pick-your-own farm, but instead of wasting the fruit he decided to make 25,000 jars of jam.
Normally, the operation at Blackmans Point on the Mid North Coast would be filled with tourists picking strawberries by the bucket, but the statewide lockdown meant not even locals could pay a visit.
"The Sydney lockdown started the eve of the school holidays in July, which knocked us," he said.
"Then the regional lockdown started on the eve of our big strawberry flush, which is in August/September.
"That's normally when we get a big bunch of tourists and visitors to pick the strawberries."
'Let's take a punt'
But this year that didn't happen and the 140,000 strawberry plants on Mr Sarks's farm were left bulging with fruit that could not be picked.
"If we didn't do something it'd be down in the back paddock," he said.
"As a farmer who puts a lot of time and effort into growing it, it'd break your heart to have to dump it.
"I know there are other strawberry growers that have had to do that because of lockdown."
Mr Sarks has always made use of his second-grade strawberries, giving them to a local artisan manufacturer to create, a now award-winning, strawberry jam.
"We normally make strawberry jam out of our seconds anyway and I just couldn't [throw the crop out]," he said.
"So I said, 'Let's take the punt, make all this jam and worry about selling it later.'"
Going HAM on jam
In 10 days, thousands of jars have been bottled, stickered and sealed.
"We've made about 25,000 jars of jam, which is a lot of strawberries," Mr Sarks said.
"There's going to be a lot of cheap strawberry jam around that's for sure."
While turning the strawberries into jam has saved the fruit, it has come at a cost.
"It's a double whammy for any businessman," Mr Sarks said.
"We've missed out on income during the lockdown, but the double whammy is we now have to pay to have it made into jam."
From little things …
Eric Robinson owns The Other Chef in Port Macquarie and makes about 30 different products at his factory out of the second-grade strawberries and tomatoes supplied by Mr Sarks.
"I started in my granny flat … it was just a hobby, but I made a strawberry jam in my little 12-litre pot and my wife took it to the fine food show in Sydney," Mr Robinson said.
The product won an award at the show, which grabbed the attention of local media.
"Anthony saw it [in the media] he gave me a call and said, 'When are you going to make that for me?'" Mr Robinson said.
From there he started manufacturing jam regularly for Mr Sarks.
"We had to build another factory to just keep up with them," Mr Robinson said.
"As they grew, we grew."
For the good of all
Mr Robinson says he makes about 30,000 jars of different products for Mr Sarks per year.
Compare that to making 25,000 jars of jam in less than two weeks.
"We're only a small artisan manufacturer," he said.
"It's a lot of hard work, but I just love making strawberry jam."
Mr Robinson said having a food manufacturing hub in an area surrounded by producers was beneficial for everyone.
"Using local produce, whether it's second-grade fruit or not, and then that being supported and purchased by the local community, is better for the planet, better for the local economy and local employment," he said.
"And it's not being thrown away, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with this fruit."
Photo Credit: Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries
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