Apple picking at the Leckford Farm

Lending a helping hand

Alongside many Partners over the months of September and October, Multimedia Content Editor, Caroline, recently lent a pair of helping hands to support the fruit harvest at our Waitrose & Partners farm in Leckford, Hampshire.

It’s opportunities like supporting the harvest – as well as our Helping Hands initiative in our shops during the busy Christmas period – that bring Partners together. But no matter our day jobs, we’re all driven by the same purpose to help the Partnership thrive.

Read on to find out all about Caroline’s experience.

“There can’t be many businesses where you can swap your office for an orchard and spend the day picking apples to help with harvest.

But that’s the joy of the John Lewis Partnership. Through a programme called Harvesting Hands, Head Office Partners are able to commit several of their working days to support the Waitrose farm on the Leckford Estate with its fruit harvest. It sits alongside Helping Hands which offers a similar programme for Waitrose and John Lewis shops during the busy peak Christmas period.

Hard work

I’ve always spent my support days in Waitrose branches, filling shelves as customers come in to buy their mince pies and Christmas puddings. I’ll be heading to Waitrose Sunningdale for that in December, but this year I thought I’d give Harvesting Hands a go too, and I’m so glad I did.

Arriving at the farm on Monday I was met with blue skies and the rolling Hampshire hills. Cherry red apples lined the trees and the sun was just starting to peak out, bathing everything in an autumnal morning glow.

But, before this sounds too romanticised, let me begin by saying harvesting fruit is hard work. It is physically demanding and you’re constantly on your feet, walking up and down rows of fruit trees, stretching for apples and wearing a bucket attached to a harness which steadily becomes heavier as you plonk more fruit into it.

After my two days on the farm, I have the utmost respect for those who do this full-time. It’s intense and exhausting, everything ached by the end, and as I’ve said many times over the last few days, we were so lucky with the weather. A day of downpours and this could well be a very different story.

Caroline holding one of the many red apples picked on Leckford farm ready to be turned into apple juice

The harvest begins

But with the sunshine on our side we began the harvest, set to a soundtrack of enthusiastic chatter from Partners, getting to know each other or talking with team mates in a very different setting to normal.

Under the expert guidance of Fruit Farm Manager, Colin, we learnt how best to pluck the fruit from the trees, causing as little damage as possible to ensure they are fit for next year’s crop.

We stretched and picked, walked and filled our buckets. There’s something quite spectacular about the sounds you hear while fruit picking too. The snap of an apple being twisted away from a branch, the thud as it hits the bottom of your basket and the rewarding, thunder-like rumble as you tip a full basket into the huge wooden crates which will be carried away by a tractor when full.

A wellbeing boost

The apples will be turned into apple juice to be sold in Waitrose, and it’s satisfying seeing first-hand how the harvest will directly impact sales, and ultimately the profits, of the Partnership. You feel it as you’re picking and every apple which tumbles out of your grasp, or which has become fodder for insects feels like a personal slight.

While we’re on the subject of insects, Harvesting Hands is a nature lover’s dream, too. Ladybirds scuttled across leaves and the occasional butterfly fluttered overhead. (Less said about the woodlouse and spiders which made me squeal as they crawled off a piece of fruit, the better!)

Being outdoors in the fresh air for the entire day felt like the biggest wellbeing boost. Yes it was tiring and repetitive, and yes I was thoroughly ready to put down my apple basket by the end of the day, but being away from the laptop and the constant buzz of emails, felt so good. There’s something so mindful about getting lost among the trees, picking ripe fruit and just focusing on the feel of fresh air on your face.

Partnership values

At the end of a full day’s harvest, as you look back at trees stripped of their fruit, it feels great. You can quite literally see the fruits of your labour with each crate that is filled, and it makes you proud to be a Partner, to experience the journey of our products from start to finish. Harvesting Hands showcases everything that is great about our business. We’re driven by the same Purpose, we work hard to get the job done, and ultimately, as Partners we are here to help our business thrive. And I know next time I go into Waitrose and buy some Leckford apple juice, it’s going to taste even sweeter because of it.”

– Caroline Cook, Partner & Multimedia Content Editor

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