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Greedy gorgers force strawberry farmer to end pick-your-own offer

A family fruit farm has stopped allowing people to pick their own strawberries because customers were eating too many of the fruits without paying.

Hacker's Fruit Farm, near Cambridge, has offered locals the chance to pick their own strawberries for 40 years.

But Mark Spight, who runs the farm, said that he was getting sick of watching people eat up to £15 worth of strawberries with clearly no intention of paying for them.

"The cheek of people was unbelievable. People were treating it like a giant open buffet. We'd expect to make about £40,000 during the strawberry season but we lost £10,000 of that to greedy gorgers," Mr Spight said.

"One woman came up to the counter, covered in juice on her trousers, up her arms and even in her hair. But she handed over a punnet with four strawberries in," he added.

Mr Spight said he had even spotted one family "sitting in the field with a bowl of water to wash them in and a bowl of cream that they then dipped them in."

The farm has grown strawberries for 85 years and enjoyed its heyday in the mid-1980s, when the fruit covered 20 of its 35 acres. In time, however, competition from supermarkets in Cambridge has caused the size of the farm to diminish to just four acres, with the rest rented out to grow wheat.

Mr Spight took over the farm five years ago from his wife Hayley's father and two uncles. They, in turn, had inherited the farm from their parents.

Now, however, with a gloomy economic climate and food prices around the world inflating fast, Mr Spight can no longer afford to be lenient in enforcing his "pick your own" policy.

He claims it was costing his family up to £225 a day. "Children would play in the fields ripping up the green fruit and throwing them at each other but the parents would get defensive if you confronted them. It's vandalism. You wouldn't do that in Tesco."

Mr Spight's strawberries, which cost just £1 for a pound, are now being replaced by rows of berries, including gooseberries, loganberries, tayberries and currants.

The berries' acidic taste will mean they, unlike the strawberries, will continue to be sold on a "pick your own" basis.

"We still allow 'pick your own' for the berries as they are far too sharp for people to gorge themselves on," Mr Spight said. "But we will only allow in people who look likely to behave."