The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), which allowed UK fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time, was closed under the last government – a knee-jerk response to British media hype about immigration levels.
Ironically, SAWS had a 98.4 per cent returnee rate, so was never actually an immigration issue despite being presented as one.
At the time the scheme was closed the scheme the government’s Immigration Minister, Mark Harper stated that “our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and the European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry”.
How wrong that statement has proved to be.
The absence of willing British workers to step into the shoes of migrant fruit pickers has led to some farmers having to leave crops to rot in the fields.
In some cases, farmers bereft of fruit pickers are resorting to extreme measures. An example not far from me is Hargrove fruit farm near Ledbury in rural Herefordshire. Problems attracting migrant workers due to the closure of SAWS, combined with the message sent out to foreign workers by the Brexit vote, has forced the farm to relocate much of its blueberry and raspberry business to the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
If Hargrove Farm’s lead is followed elsewhere, fruit which would have been produced in the UK for the UK market will increasingly need to be imported, not only losing potential jobs in Britain but also raising both the economic cost and the environmental impact of that produce.
The extraordinary British summer this year has meant a lot of fruit and vegetables have been ripening earlier than normal. One example is the blackberry, a foraging favourite, which would normally be starting to come into its own about now but which has actually been ready to pick for several weeks.
Here, ripe blackberries are combined with plump, sweet blueberries, pecans and almonds in a delicious vegan dessert. Serve with a spoonful of coconut yoghurt or a vegan ice cream, such as my lemon verbena ice cream.
blackberry and blueberry pecan crumble
300 g blackberries
300 g organic blueberries
100 g coconut sugar
for the crumble topping
125 g almond kernels
125 g pecan kernels
125 g rice flour
90 g coconut sugar
90 g cold pressed organic coconut oil
1. Pre heat the oven to 170°C (325°F, gas mark 3).
2. For the crumble topping, place the almond and pecan kernels in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.
3. Melt the coconut oil in a saucepan over a low heat. Place the rice flour, maple syrup, ground almonds and pecans in a bowl and pour in the melted coconut oil. Mix to combine. Spread this mixture evenly across a flat baking tray and place in the pre-heated oven for around 25 minutes, or until the crumble is an even golden brown colour. Check periodically, gently turning the crumble each time to ensure it is evenly cooked. Remove from the oven and set to one side.
4. For the filling, place the coconut sugar and two tablespoons of fresh water in a large saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to ensure the coconut sugar has dissolved to form a thin syrup. Add the blackberries to the pan, bring the syrup back to a simmer and reduce the heat just enough to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, gently stirring from time to time, then add the blueberries. Cook for a further three minutes then remove from the heat and set to one side.
5. When you are ready to serve, gently warm the blackberry and blueberry mixture. Spoon it onto plates or bowls, topped with the crumble.