Brussels sprouts are enjoying a renaissance, which is good news for John Clappison.

They’re the vegetable that causes most division around the Christmas dinner table. Some will avoid all contact whereas others will pile their plates with them as though it could be the last load they will ever see. Yes, we’re talking sprouts and for one man they are his world.
John Clappison runs a 1,000-acre cereal and roots crops enterprise at Park Farm, Risby, between Beverley and Little Weighton, and 250 acres are down to growing the little green balls of the brassica family. John’s volume of Brussels sprouts gives him between four and five per cent of the UK’s market share.
“We started growing them in 1976 at a time when sprout crops were mostly frozen. Today the market is all about fresh produce. We now supply around a quarter of Morrisons’ needs and a fifth of Aldi’s. There are no more than around 20 sprout growers in the UK.”
Sprouts at Park Farm are planted around the end of April and develop mainly over three months, growing to around two to three feet high. “Planting and harvesting requires a lot of staff. It’s a very specialist crop and we have Brussels sprout harvesters, but there is still selection and cleaning that is largely conducted by hand and harvesting at this time of year can be particularly strenuous in inhospitable conditions,” adds John.
Sprout harvesting starts in late September and continues right through until March, although the main eating season is October to January. The sprout’s traditional position on the Christmas dinner table sees demand skyrocket the week prior to the big day and it is all hands to the pumps to keep up with deliveries.
“We run all four of our harvesters pretty much night and day through December and our pickers and packers are completely flat out. Demand is usually five times greater that week than any other week of the year. We all heave a huge collective sigh of relief on the night of December 22 as by then there is nothing more we can do, but we’re all straight back to it on Boxing Day so that we have fresh produce back in the supermarkets.”
But what can be done to remedy that division around the table at Christmas? John has a few answers that may make some reconsider.
“Modern varieties of Brussels sprouts now offer sweeter and softer flavours and we grow 12 different varieties. And they’re good for you too. Gram for gram, there is five times as much vitamin C in a sprout as there is in an orange. We eat them at home all year round and whether you boil, steam, stir fry, grill or roast them they really do make a great addition to your plate.”

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