Keith and Karen Hitchings welcome you to our website. Together with a small but dedicated team we have been running the successful family business of Chalke Valley Watercress since 1991.
I took over from my father, becoming the fifth generation of the Hitchings family to farm watercress at Broadchalke.
10 miles west of Salisbury Broadchalke is one of several small villages that form the beautiful Chalke Valley. In 1880 my Great Great Grandfather chose this site because of the beautiful spring water resource that naturally rises there, the water is filtered by the Chalke hills that form this lovely valley and provide all the natural nutrients and minerals that our watercress requires to flourish to the quality it is nationally renowned for.
Many changes and improvements have been made to the site over the last 120 years; in 1976 my father was the first grower in England to pass the NFU code of practice, which we still hold today. More recently we have gained a certificate of conformity to the Assured Produce Standards scheme, and Nature's Choice. The watercress is still traditionally grown using the natural water resource that the Chalke Valley provides, but we now harvest the watercress with a mechanical harvester.
In the past we sold bunched watercress to the wholesale markets throughout the UK, which finds its way to street markets, greengrocers, hotels, restaurants and catering companies. This was predominately harvested by hand, which was painful work, bending over cutting with a carving knife for up to seven hours per day. This is skilled work taking several years to perfect, however I found with the onset of RSI injuries in my wrists, shoulders, back, hips and the reluctance of new labour to harvest in the old manual way, we had to change our methods.
We now grow in the same way as before, in the same spring water as before, but we now mechanically harvest the watercress loose, early in the morning while temperatures are still cool. The cress is packaged loose into plastic bags for the wholesale market by ourselves.
We now supply a good proportion of our cress into the processing market, finding its way into supermarkets in the form of pre-packed watercress and mixed salads.