Coronavirus has shown that market gardening won’t survive without migrant labour

The pandemic has changed the way we think about food and the way it is grown, picked, and where it comes from. Jon Bloomfield asks what lasting impact this will have on British agriculture

Seasonal workers such as Anna Maria from Romania are vital to the future of farming
Seasonal workers such as Anna Maria from Romania are vital to the future of farming

Martin and Maria took the Whizz Air flight from Sofia to Luton and then made their way to the smallholding in Evesham. Martin has been coming to England for seasonal work for a few years but it’s the first time for his girlfriend. There’s little work for him in his home town “and over here I can earn at least double what I can get in Bulgaria”. They work for eight hours a day, usually six days a week, picking the fruit and vegetables and then packing them up for sale. It’s hard work but he is a fit 30-year-old and says: “Yes, of course I like it.” It’s a bit different this year with Covid since apart from his girlfriend he’s not meeting anyone else other than those on the smallholding. “I’d like to come back next year but with Brexit I don’t know. Maybe I’ll need a visa.”

Martin works for Roger on the Styan family farm. Roger has been in the Vale of Evesham for nearly four decades. He grows a lot of veg all the year round, with tomatoes in the greenhouse. For fruit, he has strawberries, currants and cherries in the early summer before the plums – his main crop – arrive in August. The bulk of his vegetables he sells directly through the 40 local farmers’ markets that his business attends every month in a 50-mile radius around Evesham. Most market gardeners have a few crops that they grow on a large scale. Roger grows a lot of crops on a small scale. That works very well for him. But like most farmers he relies on migrant labour.

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