Why have I never been to Kent, other than to catch a ferry? I’m not sure that the cliché of it being the Garden of England is entirely true, but on my first visit it looked pretty good, and my interest is fired as I turn off a trunk road onto a dusty lane to check out one of the biggest apple orchards in the country.
Chegworth Valley make and supply organic juices to some of the best shops and markets in the country, and it’s a treat to be shown round the huge farm by the lovely owners, David and Linda Ingram, who have been growing here for 27 years. During this time they’ve planted over 30,000 apple and pear trees of many different and some rare varieties, adding raspberries in 1990 and strawberries and other soft fruit five years later. Of all the juices on offer, the apple and raspberry was my number one, closely followed by apple and beetroot – earthy, great colour !
Pickers are from Eastern Europe, speak little English, and live on site in what might best be described as rudimentary accommodation, but they seem cheerful and every single one of them is beautiful. Have they been hand-picked themselves? Models 1 could sweep up here.
In the early days the Ingrams sold their fruit to major wholesalers and supermarkets, but became disillusioned as they were under increasing price pressure, and the conglomerates weren’t interested in the taste and texture of the fruit, just its uniformity. It isn’t why they became farmers so they decided to take the chemical element out of the growing and deal directly with customers who were passionate about traceability and sustainability. Thus the juice business was born, and they’ve never looked back! They started growing more and more old English varieties, bringing some species back from the brink of extinction, like the Worcester Permain. Now they supply retailers up and down the country, from Borough Market in London to the Ilkley Vaults in Yorkshire and everywhere in-between; in the last few months they’ve opened their own shop in Notting Hill. How posh is that?!