Sarah Neaves, farmer from Sittingbourne, is the cherry queen


Farmer’s daughter Sarah Neaves is on the verge of becoming Britain’s Cherry Queen.

The 53-year-old mother is due to star in a series of television commercials for M&S which were filmed on her farm near Sittingbourne.

Sarah Neaves, cherry grower from Sittingbourne, at Little Sharsted Farm. Photo: John Nurden

A 35-person secure film unit took two days to shoot the four one-minute mini-films at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington. They will air on ITV next month to promote local products.

But some outings will likely stay on the cutting room floor thanks to Sarah’s slightly fruity language.

“Of course I won’t swear,” she promised the director as she made her way to a poly-tunnel where her last crop was growing. But within seconds, she had erased her notebook while filming social media inserts at the supermarket.

After the camera finished rolling, she looked at the mini-city that had arisen in one of her fields, with its own generator, lights, and double-decker catering bus stuck in a space between the trees, and declared : “It’s been very scary but a lot of fun.

“They’re a great team but I can’t believe how many people it takes to do a few minutes of TV. I know one thing, I won’t be an actress.

Sarah Neaves, Cherry Farmer from Sittingbourne at Little Sharsted Farm with the ITV film crew for M&S commercial with sound operator Jay Barnett, screenwriter Anton Ezer and cameraman Rich Bennett.  Photo: John Nurden
Sarah Neaves, Cherry Farmer from Sittingbourne at Little Sharsted Farm with the ITV film crew for M&S commercial with sound operator Jay Barnett, screenwriter Anton Ezer and cameraman Rich Bennett. Photo: John Nurden

This is what Sarah Neaves had to say after the shoot

“Farming is my dream job. It allows me to get outside and I can eat cherries all day long. It’s my passion. But from what I’ve seen, the actors come by. most of the day waiting, waiting. “

The first day of filming started at 7:30 am and ended at 7:00 pm. Day two was a bit shorter, and screenwriter Anton Ezer asked Sarah a series of informal questions.

“How far can you spit a cherry seed?” He inquired.

“About three meters,” she replied and demonstrated with aplomb.

“Where does the word ‘cherry’ come from? He asked.

Sarah Neaves, cherry grower from Sittingbourne, at Little Sharsted Farm.  Photo: John Nurden
Sarah Neaves, cherry grower from Sittingbourne, at Little Sharsted Farm. Photo: John Nurden

Sarah looked empty. It turns out the word dates back to a city in Turkey. Who knew?

“Summarize the cherries in one word,” continued Mr. Ezer.

“Sexy,” Sarah replied, with very little prompting. “I have to keep going back. Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that?

His enthusiastic defense of the humble cherry as one of the world’s most potent aphrodisiacs that followed would likely never see the light of day, which is a shame as she would almost certainly quadruple sales overnight.

Sarah is the third generation in her family to grow cherries on the farm and her 16-year-old son Archie is set to join her in September as an apprentice to make four.

Sign at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne
Sign at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne

The family grows 45 hectares of cherries next to M2 on the farm which was purchased by his grandfather, also Archie, in 1952, although he has been cultivating them since 1944.

AR Neaves is today one of the largest fruit growers in the Southeast and, thanks to its location, ideal brick soil and light levels, its cherries are often the first varieties grown locally on the shelves. supermarkets.

Sarah says one of her earliest memories at age eight was learning to pick cherries from her father Bryan, 80, who took over the farm in 2000.

She recalled, “We still use the same hand-made five-kilo baskets that are attached to our waist with leather belts.

My dad always took cherries very seriously and made sure I learned the right way. I had my own little basket and worked alongside it but adopted my own system: pick a cherry, eat a cherry.

Cherries on a tree at Little Sharsted Farm
Cherries on a tree at Little Sharsted Farm

This is the best part. I don’t think he approved but I can’t resist them. These are my favorite fruits. I love them fresh or in a cherry crumble. “

She added, “The cherry blossom in April is really beautiful. In June, when the cherries are ready, everything is at the pump. “

At the height of the eight-week season, everyone mingles with an army of up to 100 pickers including locals, Lithuanians and Romanians.

Cherry pickers, mostly students, live on the farm and have fun with barbecues, football, basketball, biking, and parties.

The farm also organizes trips to ice rinks, adventure parks, historic sites, and even West End shows.

A TV food truck hiding in the fields at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne.  Photo: John Nurden
A TV food truck hiding in the fields at Little Sharsted Farm, Doddington, Sittingbourne. Photo: John Nurden

In his grandfather’s day, pickers used wooden ladders with 40 rungs to reach the tallest branches. The new varieties are grown on smaller dwarf stocks and in polytunnels to protect them from frost, wind and birds.

Fruits are sorted within two hours of picking and end up on supermarket shelves within 24 to 48 hours. In 2015, the company invested £ 1.5million in a new packing plant that can store up to 2,200 tonnes of fruit in temperature-controlled stores.

Sarah started working on the farm in 1987 and her brother Edward followed in 1994. William Dixon joined his farm manager in 2002.

M&S spokesperson Lara Shingles said: “M&S is shining the spotlight on its suppliers to reaffirm its commitment to UK agriculture. People seem to be much more interested in where their food comes from these days. One of the champions this season is Sarah. She is a very successful farmer based in the heart of Kent. “

Film this way at Little Sharsted Farm
Film this way at Little Sharsted Farm

* M&S cherry commercials will begin airing on ITV from Monday July 5, during this morning and after the early evening news. It is part of a series of 19 campaigns that were filmed across the UK, from Scotland to Jersey.

For more news on major brands and the best places to enjoy a tasty bite, go to our Eat, Drink, Buy section.

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne


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