Grower profile: Meet Dorset Watercress Production Manager Gabriella Placidi
Last spring our MD, Tom, gave a farm tour to the Puddletown branch of the NFU Young Farmers, a local group based close to our Dorset watercress farms. As well as seeing our beds and springs the farmers were given an overview of our farms and introduced to some of our production challenges as well as to the rewards of working with our unique crops.
The Chair of the group at the time was Gabriella Placidi who, having recently completed her BSc (Hons) in Agriculture at Cirencester College was thinking about her next step and career in farming. Always on the hunt for new talent, Tom invited Gabby to apply for a position with us and a few months later she started as a Harvest Supervisor with our baby leaf team.
During the summer of 2017 Gabby learnt about our range of baby leaf which we refer to as "landcrops" (a term we think only watercress growers use!) and ensured the safe harvest of enough salad to fill around 17 MILLION supermarket bags!!!
By the end of the summer it felt as though Gabby had been with us for years (that's a good thing Gabby!) and it was time for an intensive watercress tutorial from our Watercress Production Manager and Hampshire Production Manager husband and wife team Sean and Penny Ede.
There isn't much that Sean & Penny don't know or haven't encountered growing watercress. With over 70 years combined experience (they started young!) Gabby is being mentored by arguably the best watercress growers in the country, if not the world...safe hands.
Life as a Production Manager is diverse, challenging but ultimately incredibly rewarding. Gaby says; " you can't beat walking into a local shop, picking up a bag and knowing that the watercress there has been planned, sown, harvested and delivered by our team. If I eat out, especially around Dorchester, I can spot our watercress just by looking at it and have to admit I'm continually assessing the crop, much to the amusement of my friends!"
The UK harvest season is between April to early November dependant on how kind the weather is to us and harvesting takes place 7 days a week. During the winter months (when watercress does not grow fast enough in the UK) we bring in watercress from our own farms in Spain and Florida. Owned and run by TWC this year-round production has allowed us to remain independently owned and stay a British company. We are very proud of the fact that we can supply the UK customer with watercress grown to our strict standards and principles from our overseas farm and this continuity of supply thereby supports British farming.
Gabby and the team don't stop for the winter though. During these months it's all hands on deck with watercress bed maintenance, machinery overhauls and of course, planning next year's crop. As soon as February arrives it is time to start the cycle all over again and the first crops are drilled ready for a late April start.
Gabby and the team are responsible for 9 ha (9,000 m) of watercress beds in Dorset. These are spread over 5 farms; Waddock, Warmwell, Tincleton West, Tincleton East and Brockhill producing a range of standard and organic crops as well as two sizes of baby watercress which is used in sandwiches and wraps.
This year has been one of the toughest for growing we have ever known. At the same time we have seen an incredibly high demand for salad sales as, for once, a decent run of BBQ and alfresco dining has left us all wanting salad over the normal summer "comfort food". Whilst the weather has done wonders for sales it's also brought with it insects-galore as well as a host of other challenges Gabby has had to hurdle to provide the country's best quality watercress.
In the video below, Gabby shows us one of the organic beds that has already been harvested next to one ready to be cut at Warmwell and explains how the crop is established. See how many insects you can spot flying around whilst watching....we got to 11
Gabby's favourite way of eating watercress? "I have it every day, mainly in salads for lunch and absolutely love it! she says beaming and "I've actually found since working with watercress I haven't had a single cough or cold" Coincidence? We think not.....
For a range of watercress salad recipes click HERE
Interested in a career in farming? Want to learn more about how we grow our crops or would like to ask Gabriella a question? Why not contact us on info@thewatercresscompany or view our current vacancies HERE