W. R. Haines (Leasow Farms) Ltd - PeasIt takes a practised eye to judge exactly when a field of peas is in peak condition for picking. A few days too early and the pods yield peas which are too small; leave them a little too long, and they may have lost their tender sweetness.
So it comes as no surprise to discover that brothers William and Martin Haines are fifth generation farmers. Each summer the fresh peas they produce on their land in the rolling Cotswolds are eagerly snapped up by leading supermarkets. They send about 400 boxes an acre off to market, which works out at around 470 tonnes of quality fresh peas in five different varieties.
To ensure only the pods which are in tip-top perfection are harvested, picking is done by hand. William explains: “The sweetness is affected by two things - the variety and getting them picked at the best time. The youngest peas are the sweetest but in fact, because we select our peas carefully, even the ‘old man’ pea is still tender and full of flavour. You can’t beat the taste of a fresh pea. My favourite way of eating them is raw, straight from the pod in the field, but I love them cooked too – they don’t need boiling for more than a minute - and then dotted with butter that melts into them. Delicious!”
William and Martin are passionate about promoting British produce and talk about their produce with the enthusiasm of true experts. William regularly visits local schools with a chef to spread the word about healthy eating and encourage children to taste vegetables fresh from the farm. They also grow other vegetables, including 12 varieties of Brussels sprouts, and rear livestock on a total of 1,600 acres in the spectacular countryside around Chipping Campden. Their farmland ranges from fields at sea level to around 1,000 feet higher, and they exploit the variation to control the periods when the crops are ready for harvest.
Unlike the year-round ubiquitous frozen pea, fresh peas are on the market for around just 4 months. But cultivation takes all year. Ploughing starts at the beginning of winter and the first drills are sown before Christmas, with planting continuing through until the first week of July. Peas like a warm, free draining soil so early peas are tucked up under a quilt and perforated plastic sheeting to get them onto the shelves by the third week in May.
“We aim to be the first British peas on the shelves,” adds William. Once picked, the peas are rushed from the field into cold storage on site in under four hours to preserve their freshness. The remaining hulme is then ploughed back into the soil ready for the arable crop to follow. Peas need no extra fertiliser as they produce their own but they are grown in rotation with other crops so that any one field will only have peas grown there for one year in five.
In addition to seasonal pickers, the family employs 25 people, the latest being William’s teenage son, also called William.