A Yorkshire farmer has found a way for us to have her strawberries all year round

DIVERSIFY or die is the grim reality of farming today, says Yorkshire farmer Annabel Makin-Jones.

Which is why she has spent the past year launching a new soft drinks business, Tame and Wild, from her strawberry farm near Wetherby, just outside York.

For the past 15 years, the mum-of-two has run the successful family strawberry business, Annabel's Delicious British, selling the summer fruits to some of the most prestigious outlets in England including Harrods, The Ritz, The Savoy and Yorkshire's Michelin-starred restaurants, including those belonging to celebrated chef Andrew Pern.

But the strawberry market is seasonal, with crops grown for only five months of the year from May to September.

Annabel, a fifth-generation farmer, wanted – and needed ­– to run a secondary business alongside the strawberry farm and hit on just the idea during a night out.

She explained: “I was out with my friends and I was driving – and the non-alcoholic options were limited to sparkling water.

“Just because we’re not drinking alcohol, doesn’t mean we don’t want something delicious and a bit more special – so I set to developing a range of natural drinks that can be drunk on their own or as a mixer inspired by the flavours of the English countryside."

She spent four months developing the range which features three flavours: Strawberry Cucumber Lime Flower; Blueberry Dandelion Lavender, and Rhubarb Elderberry Rose. The ingredients include strawberries from the farm and other English fruits and foraged botanicals.

"The carbon footprint of this product is low. We use up all the wonky strawberries in the drink, and the bottles, labels and caps are recyclable – to help towards the future for us all."

Although not sold as "diet drinks", they are healthy, said Annabel, with just five grams of sugar and 30 calories each.

She wanted to make something sophisticated enough for adults – but something she'd happily serve to her two children, Oscar, five, and Jemima, four.

And the timing couldn't be better. Almost a fifth of UK drinkers say they are cutting down their drinking behaviours right now – that's a growing market of more than seven million people.

Almost one in three customers in a pub or bar won’t be drinking alcohol, while almost two-thirds of Brits are on a diet “most of the time”.

Annabel said: "Lots of us are practising 'mindful drinking,' moderating our alcohol intake. Non-alcoholic drink options are a bit limited and I longed for something a bit more sophisticated and celebratory that a glass of orange juice in the pub.”

The focus next year will be on growing the brand and extending its stockists so it can reach a bigger market and more customers, she said.

It's an exciting, but challenging time working in farming, particularly for a woman, she said, adding that the National Farmers' Union now had its first female president in Minette Batters.

"There are more and more women involved in farming so it's not just a man's world.

"I have a nanny and work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and have my phone at my side constantly."

Her husband Chris works in the food industry in Leeds.

She said women had always played a crucial but almost unofficial role in the success of farming businesses, and where farms were once passed along the male line, women were now just as eager to take over.

Indeed, Annabel was determined to follow a career in agriculture from being a small child.

"I was always involved in the business, from working in the office, answering phones from the age of eight or nine I loved it and went to agricultural college where I studied for four years for a degree in food production and marketing."

While she would love to pass her farm on to her children – should they wish to get involved ­– she worries about the future of the industry.

"Food has never been so cheap. If you are paying 60p for a cauliflower, how do you expect the veg farmer to survive? Nobody is educating the public and the supermarkets don't want to pass the cost on to the customer, so we have to take the hit."

She said this was unsustainable and could deal a fatal blow to the industry. "In ten years time there will be no agriculture in the UK and that's a real concern. We will end up importing everything and food will become more expensive. There will be nothing home-grown – and we have some of the best food in the world."

It's a chilling thought, but one Annabel is keen to challenge by spreading the world about her own quality products.

And diversification has been key in securing a future for her farm. "The opportunities in farming are no more. You have to do something else.

"The strawberry season is such a short time period and the pressure to sell is enormous. Now we can do something else and use the excess strawberries in our drink and there is not so much food waste."

So, do people want to have a strawberry drink all year round? Of course, she insisted. "People don't just drink apple juice in autumn."