Meet the Maidstone rhubarb grower

PUBLISHED: 14:55 11 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:07 11 June 2013

Rhubarb grower Tony Sunnucks

Rhubarb grower Tony Sunnucks

Manu Palomeque

Tony Sunnucks of Rankins Farm on why rhubarb is having a comeback in the kitchen

Name: Tony Regan Sunnucks

Job title: Farmer

Where? At the bottom of Linton Hill near Maidstone

What sort of farm is it?

It is primarily top fruit – apples, pears and plums, but just now we are concentrating on our rhubarb.

At what age did you start?

My maternal grandfather, Frank Day, bought the farm for my mother, Josephine, when she and my father got married in the sixties. My father, John Sunnucks, managed the farm and so in a sense I am third generation. I went to Sutton Valence School as a day boy and from a very young age I helped on the farm. You could say it was in my blood.

Where did you train?

I toyed with the idea of going to Hadlow but, in the end, at 17 I had had enough of education and just wanted to get on with the job. I trained and learnt while I was working on the farm. I was a member of Cranbrook Young Farmers which was also a help. Perhaps I should also mention that I was a keen cricketer and hockey player and for several years I was in Marden’s first teams for both sports.

How long have you farmed?

I began working on the farm full time in 1982 but I had been helping on the farm since I was a very small boy. Quite a long time! My wife, Sarah, otherwise known as Scary, does the accounts and very competently turns her hand to just about anything and everything on the farm.

Tell us about the farm

We have about 220 acres of which 150 acres are devoted to fruit. That includes eight acres of rhubarb. We grow Timperley Early, a wonderful rosy coloured variety that has a good flavour, cooks well and can also be eaten raw. The acreage not devoted to fruit is used to produce a hay crop, but we are planning to increase the size of our orchards.

Describe a typical working day

I am sure everyone says the same – “it varies depending on the time of year.” At the moment we are busy with the rhubarb. The season started late due to the weather and we began harvesting a month later than usual. We start about 7am and I employ six Eastern Europeans who are very hard working. We are currently pulling something in the region of 250 kilos of rhubarb a day. We remove the head and tail and then pack the stalks into field crates. These are then taken to our own packhouse ready to go to market.

How do you market?

We market through Total Berry. The majority of our rhubarb goes to Tesco’s. There has been a strong resurgence in the popularity of rhubarb. My favourite remains crumble with thick cream and ice cream – my mother is especially good at this one. The celebrity chefs have promoted the versatility of rhubarb, devising smoothies, sauces, chutneys, jams and as accompaniments to meat.

Any children following in your footsteps?

We have two daughters. Gemma is 20 and she is studying for a degree in Business and Management at Durham University and Annabel is in her final year at Invicta Grammar School and is especially interested in IT and business. I have no doubt that one, or both, the girls will have an involvement with the farm at some time or another.,

Marks out of 10 for job satisfaction?

I don’t need to think about this one – it is a 10!

GET IN TOUCH

Sarah and Tony Sunnucks, Rankins Farm, Linton Hill, Maidstone ME17 4AU

01622 745631 or scarytoe@kentit.net www.rankinsfarm.co.uk

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