Visitors arrive from Spain, Italy, Romania, and yes, from almost all of Europe, young people arrive to pick strawberries on Samsø. And for two months, the backyards of strawberry growers will be transformed into a colourful mini community with room for both diligence and comfort. But indeed, it all started with Irma.
When Samsø was too Far Away
”We don’t have to go back in time more than around 40 years for Samsø strawberries were only found in private gardens,” explains Aage Madsen, one of the island’s three strawberry growers. ”At that time, both the transport facilities and the market for retail business were quite different from what they are today. In fact, it was impossible to transport strawberries all the way to Samsø consumers without harming the produce. Until Irma’s Mr Sørensen,” Aage recalls.
At that time, Irma was an independent supermarket chain that made a lot of effort to boost production of Danish foodstuffs, and Mr Sørensen, one of its employees, was given the task to supply good quality Danish strawberries. ”Mr Sørensen invited some of us farmers from Samsø on a trip to Holland and Belgium, which were at that time leading countries when it came to the development of new produce, and this became the starting point for strawberry production on Samsø,” Aage explains.
Gently but Fast
Soon after that the fields were planted with new, and increasingly non-perishable types of strawberries and the transport problems were brought under control. “Strawberries must be handled with care and handled fast to preserve their taste and appearance,” Aage explains. ” We start work at 6am when the pickers go out into the fields. They work until lunch time when the berries are carried to the fridges. Later in the day, they are picked up by a refridgerated truck, which takes them to supermarkets, restaurants etc. It is never more than one day from the time of picking until they reach the customer. And really, it’s quite incredible that this is possible,” Aage states.
The Good Taste of Open Sky
Today strawberry growers have become skilled at extending the season. ”New varieties are coming up all the time, so now we can pick strawbwerries from late May until the beginning of August and ensure we take good care of the fields and the plants in order to preserve their good taste,” Aage explains. Like most of the other growers on Samsø, Aage only grows outdoor strawberries while producers from almost the rest of the world grow strawberries under polytunnels.
Very late in the season, the smallest and most tasteful berries are picked, i.e. berries that primarily are used for jam production. ”There was a time when the big jam producers used Danish berries exclusively, but that came to an end a long time ago. Now the majority of the berries come from Eastern Europa and even from China if the Eastern European ones aren’t cheap enough. Luckely, we can use them ourselves,” Aage explains with reference to the local jam and aquavit producer, Samsø Bær, which he is also part of.
The Brothers from the Coal Mine
In one of the areas of the farm, Aage and his wife have set up a kitchen, bathroom facilities and a common room where the 60-70 strawberry pickers can stay and relax when they are not working in the fields. ”Pickers come from most of Europe and many of our people keep coming back year after year. Among others, we have three brothers who work every day in a coal mine in the Czech Republic. When the summer draws near, they crawl out of the mine, take their wives by the arm and come to Samsø to spend a couple of months in the fresh air.”
The pickers live in tents in Aage and Inger’s garden adding a nice and colourful touch: ” Normally it’s young people with lots of energy who travel up to us. They come here to pick berries and to make money, and they remain rather focused. Fortunately you’ll also find them having a beer or playing the accordion to relax when they have finished work in the field,” Aage says as a last remark.
Last updated: 12/08/2020 08:50