Berry picking a tasty prospect compared with a furloughed rut

Open air, plenty to eat and earning money…what’s not to like?
by Colin Campbell                                                                                                           Monday, April 27

AMID the endless procession of repetitively dispiriting virus headlines – all other news has died and faded away – I finally came upon one that I pounced on eagerly.

 It said: “Millions of furloughed workers could be put to work in the fields for harvest.”

 This proposal is not quite as tyrannical as it sounds. Furloughed workers are not going to be horsewhipped towards harvest in socially-distanced chain gangs.

 Instead, the gist of it is that, with fruit farms anticipating a serious shortfall in labour because of travel restrictions on eastern Europeans, the hope is that people with no job to go to, for the time being at least, will take up the slack.

 Some would no doubt consider such work unappealing and even beneath them. And shirkers and malingerers, of whom there are a fair number around, would recoil in horror at the prospect.

 I’d say – bring it on.

 Fifty years ago there were at least three berry farms within striking distance of Inverness, at Lentran, Beauly and Balvaird, just outside Muir of Ord. As teenagers we’d head off on our bikes not long after the sun rose and spend the day at one of these farms, filling up punnets and picking up very welcome cash.

 Those profitable days spent on these expansive farms, where you would eat raspberries while picking them until you were sick, are one of my fondest memories.

 And I could, and would, do it all over again, including the cycling part. In fact, give me a berry farm, and I’d head off on my bike tomorrow. You could work at your own pace, you take a break when you want, you are outdoors in nice weather and you’re pocketing spare cash. What’s not to like?

 Back in the day you’d head to the scales with your tray after you’d filled a dozen or so punnets, it would be weighed and the half crowns and sixpences would be handed out accordingly.

 Berry picking is not an arduous job and if you were moderately fast I’d say nowadays you could pocket £40-50 a day, or maybe a good bit more. That’s nothing to turn your nose up at, over the course of a week. And it’s a lot better than being implanted in a furloughed rut into the foreseeable future.

 I’ve no doubt plenty people would see it as a highly inviting prospect. There are the workers – but around here, are there still the farms?

 If not, some folk might even be prepared to travel to farms elsewhere. How this would work in these times is another unknown, but somehow it has to be made to work, or vast fields will go to rot.

 Ironically – or perhaps understandably – I’ve never once bought a packet of raspberries, or strawberries, over the past 50 years. With rasps in particular, I still find myself looking with near-disbelief at the supermarket price tag of two quid or thereabouts for a couple of handfuls in a plastic box. In the fields that amount could be consumed in 30 seconds.

 So if they’re looking for workers on berry farms this summer, I for one am up for it. This is not a nostalgic impulse, but a practical commitment. In fact I can think of nothing more healthy, refreshing, uplifting – and profitable – than a return to the wide open berry fields in these stiflingly dreary and uncertain times.

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