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Thank you for the blueberries!

Date: Tuesday 17 January

Thank you for the blueberries!

Community fruit picking efforts raise thousands for charity

Blairgowrie and Rattray Development Trust (BRDT) has thanked volunteers from the local community in east Perthshire and beyond who stepped up to save a blueberry crop from going to waste last year.

Last summer, local berry farmers Peter and Melanie Thomson had to take the difficult decision not to supply supermarkets with their blueberry crop as it was no longer financially viable for them to do so.

But, with around 25 hectares of blueberry plants still producing fruit, the family-based firm – working with BRDT’s BaRI Food Project - opened its gates to local community groups and organisations, donating thousands of pounds-worth of fruit to charity and the local community.

A number of pick your own days, supported by local volunteers from more than a dozen groups, were held at the end of the summer and through the autumn until late November.

And after a post on social media went viral, visitors came from all over Scotland to pick the blueberries for a donation at the gate.

Amongst the charities and organisations to benefit from the Thomson’s generosity were Macmillan Cancer Support, the Braemar Day Association, Amnesty International, Blairgowrie and Rattray Access Network (BRAN), Blairgowrie and Rattray in Bloom, Blairgowrie Runners, Blairgowrie and Rattray Illuminations Committee, Alyth Hill User’s Group, Wisecraft, Isla Gardners, It’s BRAW festival. Women’s Walk and Chat, Blairgowrie and District Hillwalking Club, Blairgowrie Tennis Club, Sustainable Kirriemuir and the BaRI Food Project itself.

More than £7000 was raised for Macmillan Cancer Support alone, with another £6000 split between local groups and worthwhile causes.

Lesley McDonald from BRDT said: “While it is very sad that it has come to the point that it is cheaper to bring fruit in from abroad than to grow it here, particularly within the context of a globally understood need for increasing biodiversity and encouraging healthy local food system, the Thomson family is to be commended on their community-spirited approach to ensuring that the locally-grown blueberry crop didn’t go to waste last year and instead benefitted the local community.

“It is really important that we are able to support growing food locally and so the Trust’s BaRI Food Project worked closely with the Thomsons to help ensure Blair blueberries were distributed within the local community. And through our community engagement work we supported local groups and organisations who stepped up to be involved in making the most of this generous opportunity.

“BRDT’s work is led by the community for the community and we work with local people, organisations and businesses to help create a thriving and attractive town, with a strong sense of community and identity.

“The way the town pulled together to help pick the blueberry crop and raise much-needed funds for a variety of local groups and organisations was just wonderful to see and to be part of and a fantastic example of BRDT’s work in the community in practice.

“One of the most impactful memories I will take from the project are the looks on the faces of those returning from the dreels, their smiles and the many comments along the lines of 'that was such a lovely experience', 'so nice to hear the kids and adults chatting away' and 'it's such a healthy, feelgood thing to do, I was never expecting to feel such an emotional benefit from picking fruit'.

“On behalf of BRDT and the BaRI Food Project we would like to thank everyone who came along, picked fruit, made a donation and made a real difference.”

Peter Thomson added his thanks too, commenting: “We had the idea to open the berry fields to the community but without all the volunteers who helped out we would never have been able to raise so much money or save so much of the crop from going to waste.  

“The atmosphere on the picking days was really great, particularly on the Macmillan days when people came from all over the country, and it was nice to see people who had never picked berries before experiencing a little bit of our local heritage – and enjoying fresh, local produce that hadn’t travelled thousands of miles.

“If we are in a similar situation this year then we will hopefully be able to do something like this again.”

Janine Seymour from the Women’s Walk and Chat group based in Blairgowrie said: “It was such a kind gesture from the Thomson family to support local groups at the same time as saving some of the delicious blueberries. We really appreciated the kind donations and the funds will go towards an outing for the group.”

And volunteers from Amnesty International’s Perth branch commented: “We were very pleased to have the opportunity to marshal at Thomson’s berry fields and wish to express our thanks to Peter and Melanie and to all the pickers who donated so generously.”

Award-winning environmental group Blair in Bloom volunteers helped out at six of the pick your own events. Chair of Blair in Bloom Mary Birch said: “We were delighted to be offered the opportunity to marshal at the blueberry picking and raise funds for the group.

“We greeted the pickers, supplied them with their luggies and guided them to the dreels, and it was great to see the happy faces as they returned with their spoils.

“Our volunteers enjoyed the experience, meeting people, picking some of the delicious berries themselves and even being filmed by a crew from an English-speaking Asian network. One volunteer commented that it was good to discover what proper blueberries taste like.

“It is hard to believe that supermarkets are importing fruit from the other side of the world when we have fruit in this country that is far superior in taste and quality.”

Kathryn McLagan from the Braemar Day Association said that they raised more than £1400 on their pick you own days, adding: “We had great fun and it was really good for the town. It was lovely to hear the voices of kids in the dreels again.”

Blairgowrie’s Pauline Cropper was instrumental in the success of the initiative. She said: “Although it was a difficult time for the Thomsons, with their commitment and the support of the BARI Food Project it has been turned into a great fundraising opportunity for MacMillan and for local groups.

“It was great meeting representatives of the many local groups and has really brought people together. People have learnt of the importance of supporting local charities and businesses, making use of seasonal, locally grown produce and how great our locally grown fruit is.”

For more information on the BaRI Food Project, email barifood@discoverblairgowrie.co.uk

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