A GROUNDSWELL of support from across North Queensland has taken the sting out of the strawberry sabotage for a popular Tablelands grower.
Bob Sheehy, of Shaylee Strawberries on the Atherton Tablelands, said he had been overwhelemed with support since opening his farm daily for residents to pick their own strawberries in the wake of the scare.
Needles were first identified to have been placed in some brands of fruit on September 13, with three cases reported in Victoria and Queensland.
Several more cases were reported since, with police believing copycats were responsible for some of the tampering.
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This prompted Queensland Health to issue health warnings and sparked major retailers to pull the fruit from their shelves.
Mr Sheehy, who started growing strawberries in the mid 1980s, has about 50,000 plants on his property and produces about 50 tonne annually.
His berries were supplied to Coles in North Queensland, among other outlets, and he was impacted when Coles advised they could no longer take his produce.
“We don’t send them south, we supply the local shops in the area here, a fair bit to Coles and some of the restaurants and hotels.
“Coles put the breaks on, but they’ve been pretty good and have kept in contact, they’ve got to do what they are told.
“There was the stress of having to change track, to absorb what Coles was taking.”
Mr Sheehy was critical of Queensland Health’s handling of the situation.
“Unfortunately Queensland Health wasn’t very efficient in my opinion.
“If they have giardia in the water in Cairns, they don’t turn off all the water in Australia, they simply say boil the water and be careful.
“It was more than a knee-jerk, they were ready to jump off a cliff.
“All they needed to say was if in doubt, dice them up.
Mr Sheehy said several IGA stores on the Tablelands had picked up some of the supply, while North Queenslanders were flocking to their farm in droves to pick their own fruit and provide support.
“The public has been absolutely amazing and we can’t thank them enough.
“We normally have pick your own at this time of year, but we’ve extended the hours and they really have gone out of their way to give us a bit of a hand.”
Cairns mother Annette Jarrett took her twin sons Cameron and Alex, 9, to pick berries to support the industry and is encouraging others to go along.
Catherine Hackett, also from Cairns, took her daughter Madeline, 6, to pick some strawberries on Saturday, saying it was important to support local business.
Mr Sheehy said the northern season was tracking well before the scare.
“We plant in mid April and start harvest in early June, the main season is until the end of September, but we try to hang on for the next two months, and if you look after the crop you can.
“They have a good flavour, that’s all people want.”
Fresh berries are still ripe for the picking. There is no entry fee and strawberries cost $14/kg.
- This story first appeared on the North Qld Register.