LoveFOOD meets... a community-minded strawberry grower

Can a strawberry-growing family unite a whole community? It can in Evesham. We meet the main man behind this football-focused initiative.

Not content with running an award-winning strawberry nursery, one family has also launched a community football tournament. Growers United FC (pictured main image above) aims since its inception have always been to raise funds for charity, promote horticulture and agriculture, and encourage integration between communities. This year, the team will be raising funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Cancer UK. The Makhan Singh Padda family originally hail from the Punjab, India, and the first members who came over to the UK took various different jobs in the agricultural industry. In 1996 they bought a small 2.6 acre nursery, Vicarage Nurseries, in the heart of England’s agriculture region, the Vale of Evesham. While they had had little or no knowledge of strawberry growing, their love for these beautiful, soft fruits was motivation enough to become self-taught agronomists. Commercial Director Bal joined the family business in 2009, bringing 15 years of packaging experience with him. In August that year ASDA, looking for a UK producer to serve them directly, approached the farm. Three years later Vicarage Nurseries received the coveted Soft Fruit Grower of the Year Award. The nursery is also a Red Tractor member, so certain standards are adhered to and the farm is subject to random spot checks, just to keep everyone on their toes. Growers United FC In 2012 Bal noticed that the communities surrounding the nursery were becoming very isolated. So with the support of other local agricultural business in the area, Bal organised a football tournament called ‘Growers United FC’ – the FC stands for ‘For Community, For Charity’.

Bal said: “In recent years our community has become truly international and this event is designed to not only raise funds for two wonderful causes, but to bring us all together too. The event gives us a chance to contribute towards greater community cohesion, which is important considering how diverse our local community has become. Sport and food: what more could you wish for? “Support for the tournament has come from so many local companies, from our fruit and vegetable growers to packers and distributors. But Growers United FC will not just be playing against other agricultural companies – other community beacons are flexing their football muscles too. We’ve welcomed teams from West Mercia Police, Wychaven District Council, Smethwick Youth and Community Centre, the NFU and Pershore College.”

Number 10, David Cameron shirtGrowers United has a big fan in a personal friend of Bal’s, England cricketer Ravi Bopara, who kindly donated an England signed cricket bat, gloves and shirt for auction at the 2013 event. Even Prime Minister David Cameron praised the initiative after he received a huge box of local produce through local MP Harriet Baldwin. He was given his own Number 10 Growers United FC football shirt last month, although he’s not been spotted wearing it… yet. This year the tournament takes place over two days on 28th and 29th June, with 32 matches including a children’s and ladies match, and tours of local Red Tractor Farms hosted by Pershore College. There’s also a local Red Tractor-assured food market which will have a real international flavour and throughout the day there will be music and art activities and a raffle. The weekend is also a showcase of the rich, cultural diversity of the area and the wonderful fruit and vegetables it’s famed for producing.