A day in the life of…. Herb Manager Tim Ashton

The first in a new series of features in which we highlight what its like to work within the Langmead Group. First up is our Herbs Manager Tim Ashton who now that the summer harvest has come to a close, reflects on a typical days work…

When Tim Ashton climbs out of his truck at 7am and sets off into the fields, he knows it’s going to be a busy (and exciting) day. It’s the day of the first mint harvest at Langmead Farms, and together with the other herbs Langmeads grow, a total of two tonnes is expected for today’s harvest.

Today Tim, Langmead Farms Herb Manager, is at the company’s site in Selsey on the Sussex coast, where cool sea breezes make for perfect summer growing conditions. In early spring the soil conditions in Petworth, one of Langmead’s inland sites, allow for earlier planting – resulting in an earlier spring harvest of the British outdoor-grown herbs prized by customers such as Sainsbury’s and Aldi.

Langmead Farms grows mint, dill, coriander and curly and flat-leaf parsley. He works with seed companies to find varieties that are more disease resistant, quicker growing and better yielding. It’s a continual round of discussion and analysis, a partnership with innovation and improvement as its core.

“All through the season I experiment with trial plots, using different varieties, varied spacing and other techniques between the plants. We’re always striving to achieve the very best product, flavour and shelf life for the consumer.”

All the signs for the mint are good and Langmead’s smooth operation soon swings into action: all Langmead herbs are hand-picked by Tim’s dedicated harvest team, carefully cutting the crop with scissors so as not to bruise the leaves. Tim nurtures dedication and a passion throughout his team and everyone’s eyes are valued as they are all quality assessors. Two people fill each crate, which is then re-checked for quality and loaded onto the harvest trailer making deliveries to the packing facility every three hours. There is one overarching goal: to create the best product possible. That’s why Langmead crops are bunched in the fields as they are handled much less, meaning the quality for the consumer is that much higher.

Whether it’s mint or coriander, Tim’s teams pick to order. He runs a flexible system that caters to customers’ needs, whether that means harvesting 100kg or 3000kg a day.

“Herbs are picked, packed and distributed within 24 hours. The packing facility is 30 minutes from Selsey and we send three or four consignments a day. This ability to grow, harvest, pack and prepare for distribution is one of our unique selling points and underlines our commitment to delivering the freshest herbs possible at the best price.”

At the start of each week Tim prepares a list with the quantity of the herbs that will be available over the next two or three weeks. Coriander is a Langmead speciality and remains its most popular product. By mid-week he receives customers’ orders for the week after and can organise a schedule that will get the herbs onto supermarket shelves as fresh as possible. If the order changes as demand from shoppers fluctuates, Tim can adjust extremely quickly. Due to Langmead’s field-to-shelf supply chain, it can be highly reactive to customers’ needs – a 10am call from a supermarket for extra parsley is no problem, and the herbs will be in the stores the next day.

This afternoon Tim walks through the crops with his agronomist and harvest manager, something they do three times a week. They check every variety and adjust growing plans accordingly. When they walk the fields, they have one question at the top of their minds: what can we do to make this better? It’s a constant search for more efficient systems in order to provide the highest quality product at the best value for the consumer.

Next it’s time to put the wellington boots to one side as Tim makes his way to the weekly supply-chain meeting, where colleagues discuss all the positives and negatives of the last seven days’ harvests, rectifying any problems in the drive to exceed customer expectations (it’s one of Langmead’s key values.)

Langmead harvests herbs six days a week and is looking at a seven-day operation in response to customers’ demands for the freshest produce every day.

Originally from Zimbabwe, Tim arrived at Langmead Farms in April after a spell of farming in Botswana.

“The shift from Africa to Sussex means learning about a different climate, different pest and disease pressures and different growing conditions. As long as I’m outdoors, I’m happy. On a day off I enjoy family time at the park, in the forest or some gardening. That suits me down to the ground.”

Tim is always learning, always improving, always innovating … so that the bunch of herbs sitting on your kitchen table tastes the best ever!