Full circle for couple as festival evolves

Looking forward to next month’s A Berry Affair are Butler's Berry Farm & Cafe cook and jam maker...
Looking forward to next month’s A Berry Affair are Butler's Berry Farm & Cafe cook and jam maker Jasmine Buckingham (left) and front of house Jane Riddle. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN
For Donald and Jackie Butler, organising a new berry festival takes them back to where it all began.

In the 1980s, Mr and Mrs Butler helped organise the first Waimate Strawberry Fare to celebrate the centenary of strawberries being grown in the district.

When the annual event, which attracts up to 12,000 people and 300 stallholders to the South Canterbury town, was cancelled this year because of Covid-19, they decided to join forces with other berry growers in Waimate to create their own scaled-back event called A Berry Affair.

It is scheduled to be held at Butler’s Berry Farm on State Highway 1 on the same date Strawberry Fare was set to go ahead — December 12.

Other berry growers in Waimate were "only too keen" to be part of the new event, Mr Butler said.

The couple were working to get more stallholders involved, and inviting other growers of local produce and artisans to come along.

The event would also feature raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries and gooseberries.

"That’s why we’ve called it A Berry Affair — it’s not just strawberries," Mrs Butler said.

The inaugural Strawberry Fare was held at the Butlers’ roadside fruit stall. It moved to Waimate’s Seddon Square in 1989, and grew from there.

A lot of people looked forward to the annual event and were disappointed when the decision was made to cancel it this year, Mrs Butler said.

"That’s why we said ‘we could come back to where it started’," she said.

It was not about making money — it was about bringing the community and producers together to celebrate and promote the industry, they said.

Waimate had always been the "berry centre of the South".

The climate was well-suited to berry growing, and in the 1880s, growing strawberries was a good way to make small blocks of land productive, Mr Butler said.

By 1898, berries was being sent by train to Dunedin and Christchurch every day at the height of the season. People could smell the fruit-laden train some distance away, Mrs Butler said.

And just as they did then, berries still made an important contribution to Waimate’s economy, she said.


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