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Fruit-picking

Fruit-picking Posted on 7 May, 2020Leave a comment

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Taken a few years back, summer blackberry-picking 🖤from the brambles, I suppose also known as foraging? The novelty of it all was fun, and a little activity which helps connect with the food that feeds us. . . The closest I got to fruit picking as a child was perhaps from the ‘huangpei’ trees 🌳 at my grandparents’ in rural Hong Kong. No one really thought fondly about it, because picking fruit was hard manual work. So a lot of it would fall on the ground and we forget them for another year. . . Fruit picking is hardly a low-skilled job as it might imply by its wages at £9/hour. So with the movement of people already affected by Brexit and now the pandemic, many farms 👨🏽‍🌾 are struggling to fill these roles. It’s not as simply as moving all the furloughed workers from one sector to another…. farmwork is tough and resilience is a skillset which takes years to nurture. . . I don’t think we should all become full-time farmers, but it is in this context that I want to think about the foods and people that feed us, especially when the shelves are now back fully stocked……. (to be continued on my personal blog ✍🏼) . . #foodforthought #foodthatfeedus #blackberries #blackberrypicking #fruitpicking #farmtofork #foodblog #foodblogging #foodwork #farmwork #farmworkersfeedtheworld #keyworkers #covidfooddiary #foraging #foragingforfood

A post shared by Georgine Leung [Food Stories] (@georginechikchi) on

I posted this picture yesterday of Audrey foraging blackberries a couple years back and a had a couple of thoughts about this. Stockpiling has made us think harder about food, but now with the shops nearly getting back to normal, and when this all becomes history, are we going to forget about all those messages which adorn our windows, thanking the NHS and Key Workers?

That’s right, after all, everyone is just doing their jobs. But what is often ignored is how poorly paid these people are, considering they are ‘low-skilled’.

But how was this considered? With newly updated immigration law arising from Brexit, fruit picking is one of those jobs which would not warrant a working visa in the UK due to minimum salary thresholds.

Tables have quickly turned during the pandemic of Covid-19 as it appears that the demand for so-called ‘low-skilled workers’ are much higher than anticipated according to headlines in the Guardian below. Similar situations have also happened in US farms which rely heavily on seasonal migrant workers:

Guardian article on 17 April 2020 on the difficulty in getting fruit-picking jobs filled

So what does it mean for us?

As supermarket shelves start restocking and everything appears to go back to ‘normal’ (despite this week recording one of the largest death count in the UK), these are important ‘food for thought’ for us. As consumers we expect the food chain to function like clockwork, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. But it takes a pandemic for us to acknowledge the importance of key workers to make sure we are able to continue eating the way we are used to. This range from farm and factory workers, to delivery, warehouse to supermarket staff.

However, why is that then they maintain as one of the most poorly paid in society? Manual work takes skills and resilience requires years to nurture. As a builder once told me, the problem with the world of capitalism is that we can no longer build houses and grow/ cook food. I don’t think it is realistic to get everyone back into full-time farming, but at least perhaps we should be rethinking the real cost of food, rather these being externalised as Carolyn Steel recently talked about in her book, Sitopia.

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