“My farm is up on a slope looking down into the town of Ledbury, near Herefordshire,” says Joe. “It’s absolutely stunning. It’s been in the family for years – my great grandfather was the bailiff to the local squire before buying some land and passing it down through the family.”
Joe is the fourth generation of Pardoe to grow fruit at Priors Grove Farm. With years of hand-me-down wisdom and personal experience, he really knows his stuff. We’ve been enjoying his organic pears, plums, cherries, apples and more for over 15 years, eagerly awaiting English fruit season and the avalanche from his orchards every year.
It was Joe’s dad Ian who, disagreeing with what he viewed as the increasing and unnecessary use of artificial chemicals, took the innovative plunge of organic conversion.
Quite a character all round, Ian (who spent his weekends blaring around with the Hell’s Angels) was determined to make good organic produce accessible and affordable for everyone. It wasn’t an easy mission: he used to load up his van and offer fruit for low prices around the housing estates of the North. Unfortunately, he found that people tended to be put off if he mentioned that it was organically grown – the fruit shifted much faster if he gently implied that it was stolen!
Since then, Joe has taken over the farm – and revolutionised it again. Rather than 100 acres of older trees, he maintains a trim 32 acres of meticulously selected varieties. Back in the day, the Pardoes only grew apples, but now Joe grows cherries, pears and plums too, in all sorts of weird and wonderful forms.
“Apples used to be our thing, but there’s too many big growers out there now, so we can’t compete. I’ve got to be a bit specialised to stay in the game,” he says.
“A bit specialised” is an understatement. He’s a real innovator, regularly experimenting with new varieties. In recent years, we’ve enjoyed his white cherries, luminous Sun Gold apples, and a damson cross sweet enough to eat straight from the bowl. We liked that last one so much, we awarded Joe the Best Innovation Award at our annual growers conference.
Alongside these experimental crops, he’s still growing classic organic plums, apples, outstanding cherries (“Notoriously difficult to grow organically,” he explains, “It’s taken us 16 years to get to this stage.”) and pears.
“I’ll eat pears whether they’re soft or hard… My favourite is eating them straight off the tree. I eat a lot of fruit!” Joe laughs. As would we, if we were surrounded by all that good stuff all day long. All the fruit is grown and picked by hand, mostly by Joe and his uncle Bill (with a few extra helpers during the busiest harvests).
We look forward to seeing what Joe grows next; we’ve heard whispers of a half-apricot, half-cherry marvel called an aprikyra…