Who knew that another farming event would be such a high point in a diary? And goodness how we have missed them. For all the old tropes about farmers being solitary beasts, stuck behind their gates, we really do miss each other and having a good poke around each other’s farms!
There have been two outstanding walks recently, both run by the excellent team at the East Kent Fruit Society. Sadly I missed the East Kent Fruit Society walk at which (the multi award-winning) Brian and Norma Tompsett were awarded the prestigious David Hilton memorial medal.
This award was created to celebrate unsung heroes of the Kent fruit growing community, people who have quietly contributed significantly to the industry and supported those who work within it.
No one could ever deny that Brian and Norma are the embodiment of the award. Throughout their careers these two have worked so hard for the industry, Brian so well respected for his early adoption of new techniques, always looking at ways of improving systems and processes and Norma always in support, creating the best harvesting teams, keeping everything on the move and always with the warmest smile and a box of delicious home baking. They are absolute gold, these two.
And retirement for Brian and Norma… well of course there has been no such thing really; they have embraced the Fruit Show for which it is absolutely the better. I owe my position to their badgering and encouragement (it is all their fault should anyone need someone to blame). They have nurtured the competitions, refining the schedule and managing a team of really impressive judges and of course the needs of a very competitive industry.
The UN has nothing on Brian and his ability to talk sense about the minutiae of the judging criteria and settle disputes. The vagaries of rule 16 and the need for the chair to become Solomon never fails to entertain the pair of them and is always a highlight of the completion of judging (well that and finding something in ultra-competitive growers’ apples!)
Talking of competitions, the first Fruit Show competition of 2021 has taken place. A very pleasing selection of juices was presented to a really excellent panel; Dr David Pennell in the chair presided with his usual dry wit, and as the newcomer to the panel I was pleased to be partnered with poacher turned gamekeeper Colin Corfield and veteran judge John Guest. It really is true that women and men’s palates are so very different and it led to some great debates around flavour, aroma and the consistency of blends. There is such great diversity of flavour between varieties even before you get into the difference of blended juices – we had sea buckthorn for the first time.
The winners will be revealed in due course. There were only two points in our top six in either class, a really impressive feat that reflects the expertise in this part of the industry.
Hopefully I will see lots more of the industry in the coming months with the Bifga meeting hosted by Giles Cannon and then Fruit Focus coming up. The industry is reconnecting and old friendships are being renewed. The Fruit Show is shaping up well, too, with bookings for exhibition stands already at the 2019 level. With the addition of the Fruiterers’ Livery conference plus the additional three months in which to book more businesses it really is going to be ‘the event’ in the industry calendar this year.