A CORONAVIRUS outbreak has been confirmed at Herefordshire soft fruit giant, S&A Davies' Brook Farm.

The announcement comes after the county saw a spike in coronavirus cases in the east Herefordshire area.

So what do we know about S&A Davies and Brook Farm?

S&A Produce is one of the largest independent soft fruit growers in Europe.

It supplies strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, goji berries and British asparagus to major UK retailers.

The firm began its astonishing growth in the 1990s when John Davies saw an opportunity to branch out from potato farming at Marden, near Hereford, into strawberry growing.

S&A now has two farms in Herefordshire, one in Wales and one in Kent, as well as producing asparagus from 70 hectares of land in Herefordshire and employs over 1.500 people.

The Hereford Times visited the busy S&A Davies' headquarters now at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak back in 2019.

Here's what we found

Standing amid the caravans and pods which provide the on-site accommodation for workers, Brook Farm feels more like a village than a farm.

The Marden site is the headquarters of a multi-national soft fruit growers that employs about 170 permanent staff and more than 1,400 guest workers every year.

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. Workers live in pods during picking season at Brook Farm..

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. Workers live in 'pods' during picking season at Brook Farm..

For much of the year, more than 1,000 of those guest workers are housed in the firm’s own accommodation, which ranges from static caravans to the more colourful shared facility ‘pods’.

Venture beyond the neat ‘streets’ of caravans, all named after local villages and landmarks, and there is a large recreational area, furnished with a terrace, picnic benches, barbecues, a gym, and a football pitch.


An on-site shop provides the basics in between the company’s regular coach trips to supermarkets in Leominster or by taking the local bus to Hereford. Its shelves are stocked with a range of commodities from the farm workers’ home countries.

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. Brook Farm has many facilities onsite for its workers..

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. Brook Farm has many facilities onsite for it's workers..

Away from the accommodation, the farm is a hive of activity, with an army of fruit pickers working their way down the long rows of strawberry plants in the farm's huge polytunnels.

Back at the farm's hub, there is a busy packhouse, where fruit whizzes along conveyor belts as it is quality checked and packaged for supermarkets.

Who are the staff?

Largely recruiting workers from eastern Europe, S&A says it aims to employ, develop and retain the best talent in the industry, and provides a supportive environment that lets people flourish.

In 2019, I spoke to fruit pickers Atanas Bayractarov, 52, and his wife, Elka, 48, who had then been coming to Herefordshire for nine seasons.

Faced with poor working conditions and even poorer wages in their home country, the pair were first tempted to make the 1,500- mile journey from Bulgaria to Herefordshire by the promise of better money and conditions.

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. A long row of ripe strawberies at Brook Farm..

S&A Produce Ltd in Marden...Pic is. A long row of ripe strawberies at Brook Farm..

Relying on the recommendations of friends, and leaving their two children with their parents in Bulgaria, they embarked on a journey to build a more certain future for their family. Then in their ninth year at Brook Farm, and like many others on the farm, the couple were joined in the fields for the last four years by their 25-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son.

They work for eight hours a day in the long polytunnels that span the Marden farm’s fields, picking the strawberries for the shelves of supermarkets around Britain.

But while S&A Produce employs hundreds of guest workers from Europe who do not live in Britain all year round, others have made Herefordshire their permanent home.

In 2019, we spoke to two workers who have started families in Herefordshire since first working at Brook Farm more than 10 years ago, Tomasz Cekala and Anna Socha, who were responsible for the pack house’s operation, from the quality of the fruit to ensuring the packaging is right for the supermarket it is heading to.

Along with hundreds of guest workers, there is also a hard-working group of office staff who keep S&A Produce ticking over all year round.

Six people keep the finance aspect of the business functioning all year round.