Strawberry growing bears fruit for Hesketh Bank couple

PUBLISHED: 17:27 29 June 2011 | UPDATED: 21:35 20 February 2013

Strawberry growing bears fruit for Hesketh Bank couple

Strawberry growing bears fruit for Hesketh Bank couple

Life down on the strawberry plot isn't always rosy. But a hard-working couple in Hesketh Bank are determined to keep on growing. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

Janette and John Gore-Phillips have the same conversation every year. The strawberry growers, who own Lemken Nurseries in Hesketh Bank, agonise over whether they can make it through the next 12 months.

Escalating energy costs and the increased price of materials have made it ever more difficult to continue but despite their concerns for the future, their decision to persist is always resolute. They will do everything they can to keep doing what they love most.

Janette said: The cost of everything we need is going up and its easy to feel down about it. It would be very easy for us to give up. But the drive in me is so strong. We will get through it and see what next year will bring.

As well as having to cope with increased costs, the couple, who grow all their fruit in glasshouses, are also still feeling the effects from a problem they suffered in 2002. A defect with fertiliser supplied to them wiped out their crops and every strawberry they had grown was rendered inedible. All the plants had to be ripped out.

We lost all our 2.5 acres, Janette remembered. This was very upsetting because it was not our fault and not under our control. But we were also very lucky because we got a lot of help from people and it keeps you going.

It was a good but expensive learning curve and one were unlikely to forget. But we will keep going as we always do. Stopping isnt an option. We knew we would never make big profits but thats not what we are about. Its a way of life for us and about enjoying it.

Some would have been sunk by the crisis and just recalling the event sparks obvious emotion from Janette. But their commitment to the strawberries they grow is unswerving. It is hardly surprising because Janette is living out her life-long dream. Since she started working as a tomato picker in her teens, the 44-year-old has always longed to own a nursery. In 1998 they decided to go it alone.

Innocently assuming it would be similar to growing tomatoes, the
couple chose to grow strawberries in glasshouses. They started with one
acre in Tarleton but when they landed a contract with Booths they took
the plunge and took on three acres of glasshouse space at their current site in Hesketh Bank.

In just 30 days they set up their new nurseries from scratch.
It has been a steep learning curve for the couple, who live in Latham. But, along with the help of a small team of people which includes three of Johns sisters and his mum Kathleen, they work year round to keep their supplies going and are able to produce bumper crops in spring and autumn.

They said they are lucky to be able to solely supply Booths, who give them a good price for their fruit. It is the support of people like this that has helped them keep their heads above water, added Janette, who also credits their team as a reason for their continued survival.

Over the past few years stalwart businesses in the county have been lost to the recession or by consumers taking cheaper alternatives. But Janette is determined to keep going and will not compromise on quality.

For us its about getting everything right, she said. Our strawberries are respected. One gentleman tried them and said he would never forget the taste. He thought the taste was something that special and that makes us feel really proud and encourages us to carry on.

I would do everything in my power not to lose the business. Its amazing what you can achieve when you really want something. You have got to keep going when you want it that bad.

Ive got my dream and Im not going to let it go.

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