A few words from our MD, Stefano, as Gina, our longest serving member of the team, embarks on her retirement…
“Beetroot! We were picking beetroot exactly 40 yrs ago!!’ – this is how Gina remembered her first days with Macknade four decades later as she reflected on her time with us.
1979 saw the first crops planted at Fir Tree Farm, which at the time, was 20 acres on the Ashford Road. It was a critical step in the evolving history of Macknade – only a small market garden but far too many crops to pick by yourself!!!
Gina was one of my father’s very first recruits, joining him in September 1980 to help him with that first crop of beetroot. Picking, planting, packing… Gina was involved in it all. Like my father, Gina arrived on these shores from southern Italy, with an affinity for the land, hard work and family.
Working the land is tough but it brings its own joys. As youngsters, we could be taken to work, to roam feral, as our parents collected the produce for the little farm shop. Gina’s children, Julie and Anna, would spend their summers running through crop lines with my siblings and I, and it wasn’t long until Gina’s older sister’s, Giuseppina and Filomena (as well as various other family and friends!), joined the team as well. It was a real family affair!
As the business grew, and my parents relocated the shop back to the heart of Macknade, here at Selling Rd, Gina continued to support my father’s growing market garden. I would spend summer holidays picking sweetcorn, packing lettuce for the supermarkets, planting plugs all alongside Gina and I remember it now with ‘rose tinted glasses’. I have no doubt that Gina knew me as the liability I was: a lazy teenager doing a fraction of what she could! But, Gina had seen me grow up after all, she had stitched me my favourite Surperman outfit, and so I knew she always had my best interests at heart.
Gina has shaped our fruit and vegetable department over the years, supporting countless members of the team in understanding about the produce and how to care for it. Many know Gina for this very role, quietly & firmly commandeering the fruit and veg aisles, but more than just this, Gina drove innovation in the business. Amongst other things, her entrepreneurial spirit coupled with her ‘love of graft’ saw Gina evolve our home baked range. Early mornings were no barrier to her energy and Gina would go home to bake all manner of delights for us to fill the shelves within the shop.
Gina epitomises Macknade and our family business. She was the unruffled, plain talking master of her speciality, understanding fruit and veg in a way that is only possible through working with it day in day out. This led to the incredible displays and array of produce that brought, and continue to bring, so much happiness to our community… it is the very bedrock of Macknade.
Having grown up with Gina, she has been one of the great constants of my own life and what Macknade is. I have always drawn quiet strength from her, understanding that we could try new things as a business, push in new important directions, knowing that there was always unwavering support behind me, even if at first it might raise an eyebrow!
Whilst Gina will be deservedly enjoying the next decades of her life surrounded by her grandchildren and her beloved garden, she will always be a massive part of Macknade and our greengrocery department in particular, which will continue to be shaped by her knowledge for generations to come.
The smell of fresh coffee, piping from the stove top in the early morning air, brings me straight back to the early years, gathered round together with espresso cups in hand, sharing the most important moments of the day.
Thank you Gina for all you have given me!