Blossoming sales for organic apples: Fruit farmer sells produce direct to customers on housing estates and at motorway service areas to keep down costs. Richard North reports

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The Independent Online
IAN PARDOE, who has a 90-acre fruit farm at Putley, near Ledbury, Hereford and Worcester, is not everyone's idea of an organic grower. For a start, he likes riding a big Kawasaki motorbike to Hell's Angels parties of a weekend.

Second, he is not dogmatic about throwing away the chemicals which conventional farmers use. 'I do think Cox's taste a bit better if they're grown without fertiliser. But I think organic produce is just far too expensive for most people to buy. We do organic because I do agree with it. There's no need to use a lot of these chemicals. But I don't criticise people who do use them.'

Mr Pardoe has come up with interesting, low-cost solutions to selling organic produce. When he finds the time, he loads up an ancient van and drives around the housing estates of the North, selling bulk and quite cheaply. He scrupulously avoids describing his wares as organically-grown, for fear of putting people off.

Instead, he implies that his apples may have been stolen and then the customers seem to crowd round the back of his vehicle. The technique is not without its perils: 'Last time I went, some beggar stole my van,' he says.

Mr Pardoe also maintains an old-fashioned market barrow in the rather hi-tech environment of the Strensham services area, on the M5. Here, a colleague sells maybe 50 5lb bags of apples a day.

At the moment, Mr Pardoe can only offer home-grown rhubarb from the stall, alongside local apples though not his own. He is between crops, but his George Cave will be coming through at the end of July, his Worcesters and Discovery in August, his Laxton Fortune just after and his Lord Lambourne at the end of September.

Spring has produced a riot of blossom, implying a bumper crop. Good, says Mr Pardoe, 'but we shall have to hand thin quite heavily, otherwise we'll just get masses of very small apples'.

People may accept the blemishes which are inevitable with organic fruit, especially if they're not charged too much. But even Mr Pardoe cannot persuade people that they want tiny fruit.

Mr Pardoe is a traditionalist in many things, but he cannot make a living with the tall trees which made up everyone's romantic ideal of an orchard. His trees are, like everyone else's, pruned to the size of an overgrown bush. Sending pickers up tall ladders would be an insurance nightmare, even if he could find people to do it.

(Photograph omitted)

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