It’s a weird time for food supply chains around the world, but especially in places that have suffered the worst Covid-19 disruptions. That certainly includes the US, as closed meat plants, dumped milk, and other unfortunate realities suggest a general disconnect between food producers and their ability to get food to market.
Now, during a time of widespread unemployment, the UK has rolled out an interesting campaign that it hopes will fill the gap in farm labor caused by the pandemic. It’s called “Pick for Britain,” and it aims to draw on students and furloughed workers to pick fruits and vegetables during the harvest season.
As explained in a video starring 71-year-old British heir Prince Charles, the UK is looking for “an army of people to help” bring in the country’s harvest between now and the end of the harvest season in early autumn. Though the monarch in waiting describes the work as likely to be “unglamorous, and, at times, challenging,” the Pick for Britain undertaking is “of the utmost importance,” and represents a “vital contribution to the national effort.”
So why do British farms need the help? Despite its long and messy divorce from the European Union, the country usually requires tens of thousands of foreign seasonal farm workers, as only one percent of harvest staff in 2018 was actually British. On top of any complications from Brexit’s fallout, pandemic-induced travel restrictions have prevented those guest workers from entering the country. Without access to that workforce, millions of tons of fresh produce will go to waste.
Though asking furloughed retail staff and restaurant employees might seem like an unprecedented ask, Pick for Britain draws its inspiration from a similar program launched during World War II. Back then, the “Land Army” saw women getting involved in farm work to keep production going.
The Independent estimates that somewhere between 50 and 60,000 workers will be needed to fill all manner of farming roles. Anyone who’s at least 18 years of old and in relative shape can participate. Those involved will receive the necessary training and a rate of pay that depends on the type of work done.
With the US Department of Agriculture recently stating that it will buy millions of dollars of produce from American farmers that might otherwise go to waste, it’s possible that a similar program could be useful here. Whether it’s actually initiated— and who will play the role of prince in the video imploring us to do our part— remains to be seen.
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