The fruit and veg industry is our shared responsibility this summer

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The coronavirus pandemic risks the destruction of some industries, such as hospitality and the arts, due to a lack of business. On the other side, the pandemic has caused a high demand in other areas, which are being run off their feet.

On the back of a period of panic-buying and restrictions on international travel, which has caused a projected lull in the numbers of foreign workers coming into the country, the British fruit and vegetable industry is one of those to struggle in this way.

We love our soft fruits in the UK, our strawberries topping cakes and desserts countrywide, especially in summer. We claim they always taste better than those imported throughout the rest of the year. However, without the abundance of foreign workers we are used to year on year, our demand this year may not be met.

The government has made a plea for furloughed workers to take jobs in this industry, in order to make up for the loss and ensure enough food is produced this summer. This would also reduce the amount of good food which businesses are forced to waste and let rot in fields.

I believe it is our duty to take up this request, especially students and young people who currently have no jobs.

As someone who provided for his first year at Durham by working in a salad factory, I know first-hand how difficult the work is: early mornings, long hours, unadmirable pay. Workers spend their days in significantly cold or hot conditions and the work can be mind-numbing at times.

Most importantly, it will help us appreciate the effort that foreign workers make in this industry.

However, the work must be done if we want the country to have the same amount and quality of food this year as we have become accustomed to.

We should not have to rely upon emergency planes of European workers being flown in, risking their health and wellbeing. We seriously take for granted the foreign workers who are tasked year-round with these unspectacular jobs, which we simply do not want to do.

They deserve a break in these uncertain times, to be with their families at home. We should continue to discourage superfluous international travel amidst this pandemic and take up the responsibility ourselves.

Mirroring the ‘Dig for Victory’ slogan during the Second World War, a ‘Feed the Nation’ campaign has been set up to encourage this. I applaud this initiative because more British people working in the fields is a way to capitalise on the opportunity of ‘extra time’ which lockdown has given us.

If we spend this relatively short period of time working in the food industry, we could better understand how our food is produced and how it gets to our plate. Most importantly, it will help us appreciate the effort that foreign workers make in this industry.

I believe it is our duty to take up this request, especially students and young people who currently have no jobs

It should also endow us with a sense of pride, knowing that we, alongside the NHS, supermarket workers, teachers, and all key workers, have contributed to the national effort to get the British population through these trying times.

Thankfully, the number of British people interested in jobs in the fruit and vegetable industry has increased significantly. Indeed.co.uk reported an increase of 6000% in searches for fruit picking jobs between 18th March and 1st April, according to BBC News.

However, this does not necessarily correlate with the number of people actually applying for these jobs. The fruit and vegetable industry is still in dire need of more workers and, if we want our fruit and veg this summer, it is partly the responsibility of healthy young people not currently working to do their bit. Netflix will still be there later.

Photograph: C Watts via Flickr

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