Fruit and veg picking is hard work – wherever you do it
- Credit: PA
My father laughed when I said I was going potato picking. My mother was horrified.
I went anyway. My friend and I were 14 years old and thought it would be a laugh and a chance to get a suntan. At the end of the first day we barely had the strength to climb back up onto the trailer and had to be hauled on by tough women old enough to be our grannies. We lasted a week and then got jobs as waitresses instead. Much more restful.
Many years later when husband and I had been on strike for six weeks with no money, I went picking sprouts just before Christmas. I wore so many layers of clothes they could practically roll me along the rows and still I couldn't feel my feet and fingers. We never have sprouts with our turkey.
Based on that extensive research, I understand why it's difficult to get local workers to pick fruit and veg. It really is hard work.
My fellow sprout pickers included a group of young mums taking turns to look after each other's children while the rest worked. Next year they vowed to try M&S or John Lewis or anywhere warm.
We had a fruit farm in the village in the days when strawberries still grew in the ground. Local teenagers would work there every summer, starting at 5.30am. But it got harder to find kids willing to do it – or parents willing to let them. Some Australians worked there for a couple of summers but then it went Pick Your Own and finally closed down.
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Maybe we've gone too soft. Maybe it's the minimum wage. Maybe casual work is too casual and everything is more mechanised and organised now. Maybe teenagers are too well off – it's years since the village had a paperboy or girl. Maybe times just change.
So we rely on Eastern Europeans. On the other side of the world New Zealand struggles to find local staff and uses seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands. And backpackers.
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So, while the Aussies were picking our strawberries, friends' children, who wouldn't dream of working down the road, have eked out travelling money by picking fruit in Australia and New Zealand, or grapes in France and Italy. French students are probably in Greece.
Maybe hard work seems different when you're doing it under foreign skies.