While many people squat at home, reload the grocery store website to secure delivery slots to the house or fear of masked socially hidden visits to supermarkets, it’s easy to forget about the supply chain and where the food came from.
When the Covid-19 case surpassed 170,000 in England, British farmers faced a spring from Eastern European migrant workers who made it possible to harvest. But with thousands of Britons laid off or smashed, the British government now says its official policy is to try to get local residents into the fields.
“We estimate that maybe only about a third of migrant workers who usually come to the UK are here,” George Eustice, UK environment secretary and top official in agriculture, said at a press conference on Sunday. The government will work with agriculture to “encourage millions of leave workers in some cases to consider taking a second job, helping get a harvest in June.”
Back to basics. “Blitz spirit.” National efforts to tie the wound together, not far from the World War II campaign that brought the nation through a relentless campaign of German bombing in 1940 and 1941.
Back breaking work
In the gap At dawn on a farm in Kent, southeast England on Monday, a group of six women dressed in a special mix of T-shirts and down jackets. Bending twice at the waist, they cut lettuce after lettuce from the earth, cut the leaves and then package them into a pallet.
Farm director Nick Ottewell, friendly and full of nervous energy, was seen.
Managing everything is “almost impossible.” He doubted that agriculture would break even this year.
The Betts had a farm here, a land they had been cultivating since the early 1900s. Ottewell thinks they are short about 45 people, and the clock is ticking. In two weeks, they must harvest their most important crop: lettuce.
But without any adverts, the farm gets 50 questions without being asked from locals who are looking for work, word of mouth and stories in the Kent media.
Ottewell chose eight to come for training. So on the last sunny day in a series of unusually fair British spring weather, a mixture of young and old, male and female, gathered in an open conference room for socially induced long-distance.
‘An honorable thing to do’
Daniel Martin, 32, sat in the kitchen opposite a female trainer with a laptop.
Until recently, he was a civil engineer, playing an important role in the British construction industry. Then came the coronavirus, and he was skinned.
“With the construction site closed, many clients have stopped working,” he explained. “So it dries for us.”
His friend works on the farm, and Martin thinks driving a forklift would be better than sitting on a sofa all summer.
“I just want to be active, to be involved. Stay in shape, get me out of the house, otherwise we will be locked up at home. I like being outside.”
Exit and about: Current themes.
“I’m sick of being indoors, not making money,” said Sally Penfold, 45. “I just want to get out there and do some work. I think providing food for the nation is an honorable thing to do.” . “
He lost his servant work in a restaurant in Hastings, after the lockdown of the British government came into force at the end of March.
“I got a job at an Italian restaurant. And I worked there for six weeks. And then the restaurant closed.”
He heard about agriculture through a story on local radio, while living with a friend, and decided that tending to the land would be better than “being stuck at home for weeks.”
Thomas Tanswell, 32, can be related.
He also lost his job, as a chef, because of the corona virus.
“Basically I decided to start active again,” he explained. “I can feel my mind might change a little. I decided I needed to get back into the world – maybe get a lemon to make lemonade, I guess.”
Love for the outdoors and fear of empty hands make agricultural work a clear choice, Tanswell said.
“It only suits me. Especially this year. So maybe I will be interested in the long run, to be honest. It looks like a nice place and a pleasant atmosphere.”
‘Commit to us’
The enthusiasm was sincere, but Ottewell looked doubtfully nervous.
Among the main concerns is that new recruits won’t last long, maybe because they can’t handle hard work, get bored or go back to their old jobs. That could be a disaster, leaving him and his crops in the middle of the season.
The Alliance of Ethical Labor Providers, which helps provide agricultural land to workers, said that around 55,000 people had expressed interest in agricultural work. How many actually accept positions? Just under 150, on April 24, the alliance said.
Ottewell would love to have a British association fill 45 positions he must fill before the crucial iceberg harvest. But he did not expect.
“This is seasonal work,” Ottewell said. “And the British don’t want to do seasonal work, for whatever reason.”
“Companies like us have relied on migrant workers for decades to have a business. However, we are here. And you are welcome to come. But come and commit to us for the summer.”
Matt Brealey, CN Whyale, and Mark Baron from CNN contributed to this report.