Out of work underwear model becomes asparagus picker in lockdown
The coronavirus pandemic has forced so many people into career changes – but one woman has made a more unique change than most
Aniko Michnyaova is a top lingerie model, used to shooting for high-end brands like La Senza, Boux Avenue, M&S and Debenhams, but with work drying up because of the global crisis, Aniko is going to work fully-clothed as an asparagus picker.
The 32-year-old model has moved out of her West London home and into a caravan on a farm to pick and pack vegetables.
Working for minimum wage of £8.72 per hour, she does up to 10 hour shifts a day to earn £2,000 a month – what she previously earned in just a day as a model.
And, instead of sexy underwear, Aniko wears a bin bag to gather muddy veg on Cobrey Farm near Ross-on-Wye, in Herefordshire.
Aniko now lives in a £57-per-week three-bed caravan she shares with five others. But she was so determined to work on a farm, that she applied to scores of jobs as a produce picker.
‘I applied through many, many websites. I went through all the big recruitment agencies,’ says Aniko.
‘I filled out tonnes of applications. I even had a spreadsheet so I could keep track of how many places and where I had applied.
‘I started the journey with two friends – who I call my “Covid Land Army” or the “Strawberry Team”.
‘We originally wanted to do strawberry picking but soon enough we found out that only starts later, like the end of May or June and we wanted to start as soon as possible.
‘What really motivated me is to feed the nation and I’d read many articles about how crops will go to waste if we don’t pick them.’
Aniko started her new role on 1 May and says she is happy to spend her time doing something good.
‘It depends on the order from the supermarkets and on the asparagus itself due to the weather. So it can be anything from a five hour to a ten hour day,’ she explains.
‘Picking beans or fruit is better because they pay after how much you have picked. So that means that pickers can make about £2000 and £2500 a month.
‘As asparagus pickers we are only making about £1,200. In my normal job, that would be a day rate but I have to adapt to the “normal” now and just swallow my pride and get on with it.’
The model says the work is fast-paced and the work is pretty relentless.
‘When working in the grading house, they have seven machines – or “lines” as we call them,’ she says.
‘Imagine this like a machine gun shooting asparagus at you with the speed of light.
‘We have to pick a bunch up and grade them into ten different boxes, from extra fine, to jumbo and rubbish.
‘Sometimes I feel like I’m in a war zone. If I just turn for five seconds, when I’m back in my little tube, it’s full again.
‘Sometimes it’s so much asparagus-volcano flying at you that we have five of the best people grading like little robots.’
She also says it has been fascinating to learn about farming and to witness just how fast asparagus can grow.
‘If it’s picked a day late, then it’s all rubbish,’ she explains.
‘We all know that if the asparagus is too flowery, that we are going to have a very long and hard day.
‘I never imagined this is how we grade vegetables and fruit.’
The Hungarian-born model – who has lived in the UK for eleven years – has been amazed at how much we actually waste.
‘We throw out so much just because it has a curve in them and when we go to the shops and pick up a bunch of asparagus, we still judge them and if we don’t like it, we put it back, which is so crazy because all these veggies have been graded by hand,’ she says.
‘It’s crazy to think about how picky we are. Also, I will definitely wash my fruit and veg once I take them home.’
In her new job, Aniko wears a blue hair net and gloves, which she says looks ‘ridiculous’.
‘My parents just told me to not get sick,’ she adds.
‘Social distancing definitely would be hard at this place. Everybody needs to work close and for some reason, there is no sign of the virus here.
‘It feels like we are in a normal world.’