Lovin’ life at Luvaberry
The Schultz’s solution to strawberry waste
Sunshine Coast grower Mandy Schultz had grown tired of throwing away perfectly edible strawberries from the family-farm when she declared an outright war on waste.
“I literally had a tantrum one day,” Ms Schultz said.“I bought some glad bags, loaded them with strawberries and put them in a chest freezer.”
Strawberries gathered from Luvaberry’s fields after rain were often thrown away, simply because they didn’t meet supermarket specifications, but that all changed when Ms Schultz began freezing them in 1.5 kilo bags.
Amidst an overcrowded market, while facing the rising costs of production, Ms Schultz refused to let second-grade fruit go to waste.
“We had just accepted that rain damage was normal. But there was actually nothing wrong with the produce,” she said.
“In the summer of ‘17 I started playing around with the dehydrator and finally came to a place where I realised that freeze-dried was going to be a viable alternative.”
Ms Schultz said in recent years the strawberry variety had become overproduced, forcing growers to throw out more and more food.
So when the opportunity arose for Ms Schultz to write a one-page business plan with Edgware, sponsored by Regional Development Australia (RDA) Moreton Bay, she entered the course with nothing to lose.
“I had the philosophy, I’m going to make strawberry powder and I’m going to freeze dry everybody’s waste and send it to China!” she said.
“At the time, it was about addressing an industry issue.
“I came out of that course realising I needed to practice logistics. So I took my waste and traded it in to Yandina’s freeze-dry industries for five kilos of strawberry powder. And boy, did that sell quickly.
“I spent the next six months buying my own fruit back and that’s when sales really took off.
“But none of it would have happened without the coincidental War on Waste carpark parties.”
“She made me realise there were people right on my doorstep willing to help,” she said.
The Samford Commons, a group at Samford near Brisbane that embraces sustainability, got behind Ms Schultz and allowed her to use their car park to run waste workshops.
“That first night we sold thirty bags of frozen strawberries,” she said. “Social media got wind of what we were doing, and it blew up.”
What started as a closed Facebook group quickly grew into a small crusade of farmers and berry lovers. Luvaberry’s carpark parties swept across Moreton Bay from Narangba and Burpengary and Ms Schultz began taking orders online.
“People loved it because it was our little secret,” she said. “We celebrated 500 members on Facebook, but oh my god. I had no idea what was about to happen next.
“Another farm came to me and said, we’ve got all this raspberry waste do you think you could help us? And I said, I’ll have a go.
“I made a post on Facebook in the morning and by lunchtime we had more than 1400 people wanting to join our group.”
As the carpark parties grew, so did the product offerings to include limes, mangoes and blackberries from fellow growers looking to offload their waste.
Ms Schultz called it a ‘big bang moment’ where everything came together at once. Not a purposeful strategy but a magnificent collision of ideas.
“Now we have just under 6000 people in our War on Waste group, and more than 1000 registered for our mailing list and we send them out carpark alerts every time we’re in town,” she said. “We visit the Sunshine Coast, Cleveland, Brisbane, Moreton, Ipswich and Darling Downs.”
“So far we’ve saved more than five tonnes of fruit from the waste pile between farms in south and south-east Queensland.
“I’ve gone from a Facebook mum to a Facebook business owner and now I’m having to learn Instagram!”
While the carpark parties were growing in size, Luvaberry was chosen to participate in a ‘Grow Coastal’ program, run by the Food and Agribusiness Network (FAN).
The 12-week business accelerator course opened doors to new products and gave Ms Schultz the confidence to move forward.
It was around this time she left her day job as a naturopath at a food health store to focus on Luvaberry’s growing range of value-add products.
“Once I made that decision to stop going to the shop three days a week, I realised how excited I was to run my own business. I got my big girl boots on. It’s hard to believe it took me fifty years,” she said.
“I never got to go to university and do PR so I’ll do it in the second half of my life. I’m on my sixth or seventh career change.”
Bolstered by the gentle support of her husband Adrian, Ms Schultz is ready to take their business to new heights.
They are set to launch a new line of strawberry Luvabites and raspberry Berrybites, along with raspberry and blueberry dust at this year’s Regional Flavours Festival.
“I want to put Moreton Bay on the food map,” Ms Schultz said.
“I’m tired of our region not being recognised for what we grow. When people think of Moreton Bay they think of Tangaloomah, or they think of Bribie or they think of bugs! Stuff that. We’ve got it all!
“There’s a stigma that farmers don’t overly collaborate, and I think distance and location plays a large part in that, but I’m going out of my way to change it.
“Our farm philosophy is to work with others where we can.”
During last year’s strawberry tampering incident, Ms Schultz felt first-hand the camaraderie of the Australian community far and wide.
“I’d posted on Facebook that we we’re getting rid of our strawberries. Within 40 minutes we had 38 shares and 2500 views. I looked at Adrian and said I think we’re going to need a table and some help,” she said.
“By the time the post had finished circulating, it had hit something like 30,000 people with 500 shares.
“At one point I was talking on the radio with Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O. I called on all the hotels in Sydney to make a state cocktail: ‘have a daiquiri to save a farmer!’ And Kyle just ran with it.
“BBC London rang me, the National Canadian News rang me. We had the Today Show and The Project on our backs.
“Our message became ‘cut ‘em up, don’t cut ‘em out! Everyone got on board to turn it around and the media changed the way they were reporting.
“What we realised is people care about farmers. And that’s been the greatest lesson for me on this journey. I never valued what we did.
“People have helped me value what we do by coming out to the carpark parties.
“I don’t need to go off to the health food shop to escape the farm anymore. I’m lovin’ life at Luvaberry.”
By Sam Allen-Ankins
Luvaberry is featured in the July 2019 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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