How it all started...
My family has kept chickens and grown veg in our garden for as long as I can remember. My father and grandfather even used to have a little stall at the gate and sold any surplus eggs and veg to passers-by. As my grandfather got older my younger brother took over the chickens, but I had absolutely no interest in any of it whatsoever! Towards the end of 2007 my brother decided he’d had enough of the chickens and was going to stop keeping them, so Charlie and I decided to step up and get involved. The thought of buying supermarket eggs didn’t appeal, so we mustered up £330 between us to repair the hen-house, buy sixty point-of-lay pullets, and make a bit of pocket money selling eggs on the stall. Around this time Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall started his ‘chicken out’ campaign, and our egg sales went through the roof! Inspired by his programme and reading numerous articles in magazines, we bought some day-old chicks to rear for meat, and a few months later I was happily plucking and cooking our first home produced chicken. Indeed, the day we ate our first 100 per cent home-produced roast chicken dinner was so satisfying, we just knew we wanted to do more.
Why don’t you get some pigs?
One day while I was feeding the chickens, our neighbour popped his head over the fence and said, “So now you’re eating your own chickens, why don’t you get some pigs?” “Really,” I said. “Would you be OK with that?” “Oh, yes,” he said. “Put me down for a leg of pork, please.” I was soon on the phone to Animal Health for a holding number, and Trading Standards for a herd book and movement papers. On 16th May 2008 we became proud owners of two Middle White weaners, and the talk of the village! We took them to a local abattoir in mid September and I’ll never forget collecting the meat that Saturday morning, butchered but not labelled, and in four big bags. We really didn’t have a clue what half of it was! We ended up laying it all out in our kitchen, comparing what we had to the cuts of pork diagram in The River Cottage Meat Book, while a queue of our friends was rapidly growing outside the back door.
It would be nice to have a couple of cows, wouldn’t it?
A month later we bought two more weaners, and by June 2009 we had begun renting a half-acre field, and bought three lambs. We’d really got the bug by then, and spurred on by Charlie developing some serious food allergies a few years earlier, we had started looking into how food is produced and decided to become as self-sufficient as possible. In the summer of 2009 we were on holiday in Dorset, walking past a field of cattle, and casually said to each other, “It’d be nice to have a couple of cows, wouldn’t it!” We decided that Dexter cattle would be the most suitable for us due to their small size and reputation for excellent meat quality.
In November 2013 I left my job to work on the farm full-time. We knew to move the business forward we needed to expand. After more talks, emails and visits from the local council we built a new butchery and kitchen so that everything could be processed in-house just in time for Christmas 2014. I have learned butchery, and we now provide a butchery, packaging and labelling service to other local smallholders, which meets all the hygiene regulations for them to sell on to their own customers, but we’ve never forgotten our own early experiences of sorting through our first few pigs, trying to work out all the cuts of meat. Charlie is busy every day in the kitchen making all sorts of delicious things with our meat, including pies, scotch eggs, pâtés, corned beef and brawn, which has been incredibly popular! We now farm around fifty acres, and in 2016 we won an award: Independent Food Retailer of the Year in the Bedfordshire Food & Drink Awards, which has attracted even more customers our way.
Our farm shop has even caught the eye of Michelin-star chef, Bruno Loubet, who has had a number of restaurants in London. In May 2016 and January 2017 Bruno held pop-up restaurants in our shop, cooking everything in our little farm shop kitchen and creating a true field-to-fork experience. The aim of the events was to promote discussion with our diners and raise awareness of the importance of food provenance, sustainability and shopping locally. Bruno had announced to the national press that he had removed beef from his menus because he felt that modern farming methods were not sustainable for raising cattle, so we were honoured that he agreed to use our grass-fed Dexter beef in our first pop-up menu.
Adapted from Home Farmer magazine January 2017 edition.