Our people are the genuinely the centre of our business. We strive to create opportunities for them, and in doing so we hope to redefine what it means to be a great business.
I came to Haygrove in 2007 to be the bus driver who collects the workers from their various homes and ferry them to the specific farm locations and I’m still doing that today. Over the years, the requirements for my driving have increased; Haygrove has grown significantly, and as we manage to extend the growing season even longer, I’ve found that my bus service takes me all around Herefordshire and beyond. No two days are the same; I don’t follow a set route and my journeys will change on a day-to-day basis depending on the Farm Manager’s needs. My bus can sometimes be a bit temperamental, so I also try to do much of the maintenance myself. Before I moved to Haygrove I drove lorries, diggers and forklifts, so I’ve always been mechanically minded. Being able to apply this in the horticultural industry presents a very varied working life, which I really enjoy.
Bright Futures has changed me and my colleagues from being general farm workers to being business people. Haygrove have coached us since 2008 through the mentorship, but they’re still here to help us maintain the focus and continue learning the techniques. We are, however, now independent and can decide about recruiting people, and doing things on our own and to our own budget. We are not dependent on farm worker salary increases; we have to push so that we get a nice profit and that way we get the best profit shares.
I moved to the UK in 1997 for a gap year while I was studying management accountancy. I had a desire to do something outdoors and so ended up working on a couple of farms across the UK. After a particularly tough winter season picking leeks in Lincolnshire, I decided my time in agriculture had come to an end and I took the next bus to London. Fortunately, another South African on the journey convinced me that farming in the UK wasn’t all that bad – he worked for Haygrove. When I got to London, I gave them a call and swiftly made my way to Ledbury. Over the next two years I did many different jobs on the farm and ended up managing the harvest at the Kington site. I returned to South Africa when my visa ran out and started a business in the vehicle trade. I stayed in touch with Angus, and after a visit to South Africa, to a friend, Simon Turner and to California to Driscoll's, he came again in 2000 and wanting to live a dream, we started scouting ideal sites to grow raspberries. A small test plot, near to what’s now Haygrove Heaven, proved ideal. We bought a neighbouring farm, and overtime that grew into the 191-hectare business that Hargrove Heaven is today. Wherever it chooses to set up operation, Haygrove is always very intentional about making a positive impact in the lives for those less fortunate, and that is particularly noticeable in South Africa. For me, the creation of jobs, the empowerment of people and the positive impact we’re deliberately having on health and well-being locally is what makes Haygrove remarkable.
My story with Haygrove begins almost thirty years ago when I was a student in Poland and made the decision to travel to the UK. I hardly spoke any English, but I was assigned to work at Redbank in Ledbury. When I arrived, I was met by someone with a welsh accent so thick, I could just about make out the words, ‘caravan’ ‘berries’ and ‘pick’. That however marked the start of a lifelong journey with Haygrove. I wanted to work as much as I could, so I moved from picking berries to working in the Packhouse. This is where I found my permanent summer home for the next 7 years. I continued to work for Haygrove as a Packhouse Manager until 1999, at which point I decided to move back to Poland for good to focus on the manufacturing business that my father and I had been developing. Fortunately, this happened at a time when Haygrove were looking to outsource the production of their steel polytunnel structures, and so my life with Haygrove continued. We formed Haygrove Poland, became the sole supplier of steel products to Haygrove UK and we also developed much of the machinery Haygrove use to form the steel and construct the growing systems. Throughout my whole time working with Haygrove, I have always felt very much part of the family. I’m very proud to think that as time’s gone by, I’ve had the opportunity to help Haygrove grow internationally in a way I would have never dreamt of twenty-six years ago when I arrived at Redbank and was shown my caravan.
I was drawn to Haygrove for several reasons, but most prominently it was the opportunity to work for an international company. I was excited about the prospects of learning agronomy techniques from different regions, different people and different climates. I was also attracted to Haygrove’s specialism in substrate systems; I am really excited about the new challenges that type of growing presents. I enjoy how, from an agronomy point of view, you have to be much more precise and how there’s less room for error. I like how that has advanced my abilities and the reward in increased yield and fruit quality is very satisfying. My move to Haygrove literally happened overnight. I applied on a Friday, had my interview the next day and had the job by the evening. Since then the pace has continued, which is very exciting.
We can never predict the paths we take. My training is in Marine biology, but over a decade ago, Haygrove approached me because they were looking to move into the Portuguese market and were keen to meet some growers. Farming has always been present in my life, my Grandparents were farmers, and my Husband farmed in both Scotland and Portugal, so it wasn’t a total mystery. I organised a couple of tours around the growers I was friends with. These visits obviously went well, because Haygrove decided they needed a full-time representative in Portugal and they asked if I knew anyone. Haygrove pursued a few names, and in the interim, I agreed to act as a representative for a few months, while also doing my day job. Anyway, twelve years later, here I am – representing Haygrove Growing Systems across Portugal. It was then back in 2015 that Haygrove approached me about the potential to set up a new farm in Portugal. My focus shifted then from tunnel sales to the establishment of the farm and the early management of it, helping with the HR and welfare side of things. One part of my job that I really enjoy is working with the local schools and hosting school visits on the farm. Ages range from 4 to 16 year olds and they come to learn about the whole farming process and where their fruit comes from. The older ones also discover that there’s actually huge opportunity in the farming industry, and it helps present growing as a viable career path. Doing this work with the schools is important to me, because I really identify with Haygrove’s core value to give back. I really admire the work that so many people do across the business to help deliver the triple bottom line, and I think that’s what makes Haygrove different.
My life with Haygrove has been extremely varied. I began as a tractor driver in 2006, doing all sorts of tasks, but I took particular interest in spraying and pest control. In 2010 I became the Husbandry Manager across Haygrove UK’s Newent and Ledbury sites, where I was also responsible for pest and disease management. A couple of years later, my remit extended to glasshouses at Riverside and Rhymney. So, with plant husbandry, tunnel management, irrigation, and pest and disease responsibilities across all of the UK sites, my title became Production Manager. I fulfilled this role until 2016, but the urge to specialise in my real passion proved too strong, so I decided to focus specifically on Pest & Disease Management. What I really value in Haygrove is our belief in our people. In my case, Haygrove has allowed me the freedom to fully explore the horticultural disciplines and find my passion.
When I started working for Haygrove in 2010, I was overseeing the harvest and packhouse. This naturally involved managing a variety of activities right across the farm, and so it wasn’t long before my responsibilities evolved into the position of Operations Manager. As the farm grew, I moved into the more specialised role of Group Quality Assurance Manager, and that’s what I do today. I travel to all of our sites in South Africa and carry out regular quality assurance reviews. I then put action plans in place to ensure that we maintain a high level of quality in all we do, across all of our sites. I spend a lot of my time training people too. Transferring quality assurance knowledge on to Farm and Packhouse Managers is crucial in ensuring that quality is maintained round the clock, and I also help facilitate the flow of quality information between the fields, the packhouse, and customers around the world. What makes Haygrove special for me is the level of value that’s placed on people. Haygrove is not a complacent company and the drive, enthusiasm and motivation that’s passed from person to person comes right from the top. There is a real sense of opportunity for everyone that works here and Haygrove is excellent at nurturing that.
My background is in biochemistry and I spent a career working primarily in pharmaceuticals; however I’d always wanted to run my own business. In 2008, I decided to study soft fruit growing; we had the chance to study abroad and one of our teachers put me in touch with Haygrove. During my short spell in Ledbury, I absorbed a huge amount of practical knowledge and was able to go back to my family farm in Finland to plant my first crop of strawberries. Part of my job in the UK was to put together a report detailing the fresh-berry market in Finland. Everyone was so surprised to see the amount of growing that was taking place and excited by the opportunity for Haygrove, as a result, I was asked if I’d consider acting as a sales agent in Finland. I was a little apprehensive at first, especially considering I was still a very novice grower. However, I spoke with the Swedish agent, who was also a grower and before long I decided to give it a go; and I’ve not looked back since.
I began working for Haygrove in 2005. I was working with an agent in the US who had a close relationship with an American grower who was looking to expand his operations to Mexico. As such, they saw the benefit in having a Haygrove representative in the region, and that’s how I began focusing my time here. As the Mexican berry industry continued to expand, especially with the growth in blueberry popularity, Haygrove decided to set up Haygrove Mexico as a dedicated subsidiary in 2007. So now all Mexican sales come out of our office here and we even have a manufacturing facility nearby where we construct polytunnel legs and struts. Haygrove is a very innovative organisation, and I’m proud to work for a company that is constantly looking to lead the market in terms of innovation. As a result, customers trust us and appreciate our quality, and that is very rewarding.