I’ve been growing tomatoes for over 30 years now, not bad for a 40-year-old!
Growing up in York there was no family background, just an enterprising young Yorkshireman looking for things to sell back to teachers – it happened to be plants.
Lots of careers advisers said: “Why do you want to do gardening?” Least to say I now produce more than 80 million tomatoes a year from two nurseries in the Tees Valley and East Yorkshire, and at the peak of the season I employ in excess of 200 people. It’s not just gardening!
From that early interest I have always had a passion for growing and I am now also the chairman of the British Tomato Growers Association.
Whether in a field or a glasshouse, producing not just any food but fresh, great tasting food is an incredibly complex process and to do that we need great people and more of them.
Farming and growing is also an industry where you can have incredible pride and passion in what you do and great rewards.
Simply standing at the Great Yorkshire Show and listening to the feedback as people taste our product is superb.
We have a great story to tell; as producers we have to shout about what we do and show our pride, passion and enthusiasm to others, encouraging them to see the exciting future for our sector.
Alongside this we need everything from the curriculum, through to teaching and government policy to highlight the importance of growing and consuming our own food. That does not mean producing for the sake of it or asking people just to buy it because it’s British. More important is buying something because it is better.
We have incredible standards of production in the UK and it’s a shame we can’t have a real level playing field for product entering the UK, ensuring that it meets the standards we set our own growers (who haven’t been subsidised).
We don’t want handouts, but it is hard to compete with imported product if it is produced to a lower standard or with some costs supported.
Two age-old adages are just as relevant now as always: you are what you eat and you get what you pay for. British product is great value and there is no excuse for not buying great fresh local food.
But to get great food not just today, but tomorrow and in the future, we need farmers of the future.
I didn’t come from a farming background, but have loved every minute of what I do and would want to encourage more to do the same.
As well as being a part of the Future Farmers of Yorkshire group, I have just joined the Yorkshire Agricultural Society mentoring scheme to try and help do this, and I would encourage anyone interested to email email@example.com to find out more.
One final note, whilst we need future farmers, I am concerned that our current consumers enjoy their British tomatoes, so please remember, fridges do flavours no favours, leave them out on the kitchen top, I promise they’ll taste better.
Nigel Bartle is a Yorkshire tomato grower and a member of Future Farmers of Yorkshire, a social and informative group supported by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, the Yorkshire Food, Farming and Rural Network and the Yorkshire Veterinary Society.