It was only thanks to the penchant of Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, for serving wild strawberries with cream, that the fruit assumed totemic importance in the English psyche, never more so than during Wimbledon fortnight when tennis fans consume more than 34,000 kilos of the stuff.
The good news is that, despite the terrible spring weather, there should be a bumper harvest this summer. A nation breathes a collective sigh of relief. “The crop’s looking very good,” said Nicholas Marston, chairman of British Summer Fruits. “It’s a little later than last year, which, seeing that Wimbledon is a little late, is not a bad thing.”
But the bigger picture in the strawberry fields of Britain this year is far from rosy. Whether growers will have anyone to pick the ripe berries is now a critical issue, one that has profound implications for the U.K.’s food security, the health of its population and the sustainability of its countryside economy.
“Normally we have 10 people being interviewed by our agency for every job,” said Stephanie Maurel, the chief executive of Concordia which supplies around 10,000 foreign workers to 200 farms in the U.K. each year.
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