Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

For only £208, you can toil away on the singer's Tuscan estate

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You know those fields you drive past in summer, awash with plastic greenhouse sheeting, where you see a sign that reads “Pick Your Own” and you wonder if it might be worth stopping the car, walking through the rows of strawberries with a pair of scissors, snipping the biggest, reddest and juiciest you can find, then taking them home and amazing your friends with your self-harvested trove of nature’s scarlet summer bounty?

Then you think: Hang on – why should I be arsed to spend hours picking someone else’s strawberries, even gratis, if it means putting my back out, getting pricked and sweaty and covered with red gunge, when I could spend four quid in Waitrose for the same result?

It is, as the children say, a no-brainer. So would you be interested in an offer that’s now available in Italy, where you rise early, head for a massive wine-and-olive-growing estate, spend a harvest day collecting grapes and olives in a big, peasant-grade basket, then hand it over to the estate’s multi-millionaire owner – and pay him for letting you work there?

The chap in question is Sting, formerly with The Police, composer of such hits as “So Lonely,” “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “Every Little Thing He Does Is Moneyspinning.” He and his wife, Trudi Styler, own a 16th-century, 900-acre estate called Il Palagio in Tuscany, where they produce honey, oil and biodynamic wine. They’re asking for well-off tourist-visitors to “roll up your sleeves” and help with the local harvest, while paying €262 (£208) for the privilege.

The sales pitch is ingenious. Prospective visitor-workers are promised, along with “succulent grapes and luscious wines”, that they will share “the adventure and excitement of being part of the annual vendemmia, the traditional, October grape and November olive harvests respected by generations of Tuscan farmers”.

Myself, I always thought grapes and olives were harvested in the autumn months, not because it was a local “tradition” like a church festival, but because it’s when grapes and olives are, you know, fully ripened.

But the key word here is “respected.” Saying the harvest has been “respected” by farmers for generations means it’s been “worked at” for generations by farmers using unskilled seasonal labourers who are paid a pittance.

 

What the word sneakily coveys, however, is that, when Dan and Marjorie from Buckhurst Hill join the perspiring yokels in the hot sun, snipping grapes (and possibly humming “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” as Claudio and Felipe crowd in just behind them) they can bask in the illusion that they’re being “respected” as down-to-earth equals by the horny-handed toilers in the Tuscan grove, rather than being considered gullible twats taken in by the crafty, opportunistic Signore Sting.

It’s a potent myth that you can hitch a ride on authenticity, and become one of Millet’s Gleaners by working in a field, with the twinkle of honest sweat on your brow and the fine ache of honest labour in your bones. I tried it once, in my teens on a Tuscan farm, hoeing with a zappa in the middle of a dozen piss-taking Sardinians, and let me tell you, it wasn’t a transcendent experience, it was back-breaking, it induced a raging thirst, and it seemed to go on for ever.

There are suckers born every moment, though. So I wonder if I could pull off the same trick. There’s a tree in my garden that needs to have its skinny branches trimmed off. Shall I put an advert in the Classifieds? “Come and help de-branch my tree. Just roll up your sleeves and join in an ancient practice honoured and respected by millions of earthy visionaries. Andrew Marvell, Virginia Woolf and Seamus Heaney all liked trees. Jesus Christ has a special relationship with one. Shakespeare’s Macbeth was attacked by a whole forest of the things. You too could be part of the ancient dendrophile community, feeling the excitement of pruning and pollarding in the timeless landscape of West London). Only £250.”

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