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Pick your own is a big attraction for thousands of families and now restrictions are easing, Claremont’s Andrew Pimbley has decided to safely open up his award-winning Bebington farm for fruit pickers of all ages.
Claremont Farm’s shop has stayed open throughout the virus, taking online orders, offering non-contact collection from its car park and delivery for those who are most vulnerable.
“On the Monday of shutdown, we came in, cleared all the tables from the café and started a production line, boxing up produce. We’ve been going with that ever since,” says Andrew.
“At that point I think a lot of people were really panicking because they couldn’t get supermarket delivery slots, but we told them to come to us in their car and collect and for those without cars, family, or any kind of support, we offered a delivery service.”
Claremont’s Polish farm staff, who have worked there for three months each year over the past 20 years, returned home to isolate so he put an emergency team together.
“Usually I’m on events, in the café, everything but harvesting the fruit and vegetables,” he says. “So, I put myself back on the farm and built a team and we harvested the asparagus.
“One guy who worked at the farm years ago had just passed his pilot’s licence, and there was no work for him so he came back, we had a teacher who’d come back from New Zealand but couldn’t do any teaching work, we had a freelance camera guy, sixth form students and a sales rep who’d been made redundant. We came together and just created this little family. Every day, seven days a week, we turned up at the field and cut the asparagus – it was such a grounding, life-affirming, amazing situation.”
Andrew says the fact that farming has been in recession for 20 years means the industry has had to be resilient and diversify.
“We’ve done events and built a new farm shop and café and we’re collaborating with different people to bring people into the farm and keep going,” he explains. “And obviously you can never predict the weather, so I think farmers have always been well-placed to adapt. This has just been a different type of challenge.”
With strawberries ripening fast in the hot May weeks, Andrew decided to reopen pick your own with new guidelines in place.
“Previously it’s been free entry, and everyone gets given a basket, they go and pick, bring it back and weigh but I knew having two times when you potentially had to wait wouldn’t work now – you’re doubling up on the risk to the staff and the public.
“Most people come, get a punnet and fill it so we decided to introduce an admission charge for the first time. That way everyone pays up front, they get a punnet and they can just go, pick and leave without having to queue again.
“It’s a more workable safe system and we have plenty of space to do that.”
The smallest punnet with a handle is 1 kilo, which is priced £4.50. Children aged two and under get in free so they can pick with adults or older children, everyone else pays £4.50 and then they get a punnet to fill up. There’s also a larger one available which is £9.
“I decided not to have time slots, because I didn’t want to restrict how long people were out in the field,” adds Andrew.
“We have a couple of different patches and each one holds a couple of hundred people, so we can accommodate about 400 and about 200 in the queue. There’s a large grass walkway that connects the two patches so there’s enough space for everyone to keep distanced.
“When people arrive we don’t tell them specifically where to go, we let them find an area they’re happy with, because everyone’s getting used to distancing and being sensible now and here it’s a lot easier to step away from people if necessary.”
After an initial trial day, Andrew is planning to reopen in the middle of the week, around June 10, from 10am-6pm, seven days a week, and he predicts the pick your own season should last three to four weeks.
The shop is open, for queuing or online orders, and the café is now serving takeaway drinks and food, chips, salads, quiche etc …
“Our first day was actually a lot better than I imagined,” says Andrew. “It was calmer, everyone was really positive, and they all had full baskets so it couldn’t have been better.”
Crops to come – strawberries, pick gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and tayberries – they’ll be available to pick a bit later, in another week. Indoor for our farm shop we’re picking strawberries, rasp, blackberries, to pick in a month or so, then that leads to our veg – kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and then lots of different types of pumpkins, we’ve been having to water them in because it’s been so dry.
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