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'My fruitless attempts at becoming a berry picker at a Kent farm' in response to government's Pick for Britain campaign

They've been hailed the ideal jobs for the furloughed or unemployed - but reporter Rebecca Tuffin found trying to become a strawberry picker can be a fruitless task.

With dozens if not hundreds of fruit farms across Kent, as spring began to emerge so did farmers' worries that there would be a shortage of workers this year.

Maybe Rebecca hasn't got a berry good CV
Maybe Rebecca hasn't got a berry good CV

The industry tends to rely heavily on seasonal, often migrant labour to bring in the soft fruit harvest, but with borders closing across the continent - who was going to make sure all those berries were picked?

The government began urging furloughed workers to help fill the staggering 70,000 positions across the UK to prevent the sector grinding to a halt.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said only a third of the migrant workers who normally picked fruit and vegetables were currently in the country.

That's where I came in - an enthusiastic member of the Great British public, eager to get stuck in and quite willing to get my hands dirty - or covered in berry juice in this case.

Aware that some can be a little suspicious of journalists - although I insist I am not one of those cut-throat tabloid types, and more a somewhat cautious, baby-faced apprentice - I decided to leave this part of my working history out of my farm-orientated CV.

I instead highlighted my experience as a handyman (or handywoman), painting skirting boards and grouting for my dad, who runs a property development business.

KMTV's report last month on the government's plea for fruit pickers

With a snappy covering letter focusing on my practical skills and full driving licence, along with the fact I was able to start as soon as possible, I was all set for my new career - or so I thought.

Picturing myself in a wide-brimmed straw hat, far away from the bright screens and never-ending coffee top-ups of my stuffy bedroom-cum-temporary office, I began scouring the web and soon came across several roles which were exactly what I was after.

MC Personnel was the first to receive my eager application on Wednesday, May 6. An organisation "recruiting on behalf of some of the region's most successful fruit and vegetable growers" MC Personnel boasts of currently having "a number of opportunities across Kent".

Not for me it seems - I've still heard nothing back. However, the job advert does stipulate experience in fruit picking is a must - so that might have been the problem.

Next, I went for a £8.72 per hour role, advertised on reed.co.uk, with the only requirements being someone hard-working, honest and reliable with their own transport.

I'm pretty sure I embody all of these qualities - well, definitely the transport - but no luck here either.

Three more farms dotted around the county had my CV pop into their inbox that day, but sadly, I didn't meet the cut.

But I was not giving up that easily.

Over the last two weeks I applied for 11 fruit picker jobs in total - in Maidstone, Faversham Dartford and further afield.

I got my first and only official rejection from Edward Vinson on Thursday, May 14, and a couple of emails asking me to send further details but have heard nothing since.

I was thinking I may have come a little late to the party, as there were lots of adverts online but when I clicked through to the website, it said the post had been filled.

But Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat's tweet yesterday - plugging the government's 'Pick for Britain' campaign made me think differently.

I'm glad if the positions have been filled as it's vital we keep our farming industry moving during these unprecedented times, but it does still make me question whether all those who've been furloughed or are out of a job will make up much of the workforce.

There are around 70,000 fruit picker roles in the UK every year. Picture: Andy Payton
There are around 70,000 fruit picker roles in the UK every year. Picture: Andy Payton

I do have a friend who's managed to wangle herself a job at a Kent fruit farm, but she's a student who will definitely be available for the whole summer instead of potentially heading back to work as lockdown gradually eases, which could be a problem for farmers.

Or maybe she is just much better suited to the art of fruit picking than me.

But for now, it's still reporting for me - unless anyone fancies giving me a trial shift?

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