The great triumvirate of Suffolk farming - the Suffolk Punch, the Red Poll cow and the Suffolk sheep - have shaped the landscape. Wealth from their labours has poured back into the exquisite Suffolk churches. Now, all three are forgotten (except by enthusiasts); their heritage ignored and destroyed.
Suffolk sheep are very rare in Suffolk, while still plentiful elsewhere, Suffolk Punches are just for show or nostalgia. Only the Red Poll is staging a small, specialised come-back.
Much the commonest sight now is free-range pigs and of course, poisoned, hedgeless fields. Hedges also are coming back, subsidised by the government, who, such a short time ago were subsidising their removal.
Although industrial farming still has Suffolk in its grip, it is obvious now that its life is limited.
I shall probably live to see factory farming remembered as part of our heritage, like the Suffolk Punch, though surely with less affection.
So what is replacing it?
OCT. 20, 2002
AVOCET ALPACAS, BURNT HOUSE FARM, FARNHAM, SUFFOLK.
43 alpacas and a herd of Shetland sheep bring a strangely exotic flavour to the sands of coastal Suffolk. Joanna and Giles de Bertodano are working on combining Shetland wool and Alpaca fibre to make their own cloth and, ultimately their own luxury garments.
They also offer a scanning service for alpacas. They sell Shetland lamb, which is very good.
RENDHAM HALL FARM
David and Colette Strachan have a dairy herd of 200 Holsteins. They process, bottle and sell their own milk under the trade name of MARYBELLE. It's lovely milk, which should be in all the local shops. The cream is made into ice-cream, also by the hard-working Strachans.
It is sold in local shops as SUFFOLK MEADOW ICE CREAM. There are numerous delicious flavours. They also do sorbets. This brave, independent venture is struggling against enormous odds. "It's a big big hill to climb," Colette told me "and I don't like heights."
The Strachan's are forging a trail that is so important for British farming. They are over-worked and harassed. They need more outlets for their milk. They need a website. They need our support.
HALESWORTH, SUFFOLK is a small town under threat. At the moment, it has three excellent butchers, one of whom, DICK HURRAN, is world-class. Mr Hurran is a perfectionist who chooses all his meat himself from traditional local herds, and hangs it for four weeks. There is an ORGANIC SHOP where I finally found a local bran cereal. They make it themselves. There is a delicatessen, called COUNTRY KITCHEN, who make their own freezer foods and sell another local milk from DOUGLAS FARM, DITCHINGHAM, SUFFOLK.
The threat is from a developer who wants to build a supermarket. All locals are against this, but the planning ban has been overturned on appeal.
(My thanks to Lady Cranbrook, who first told me about Halesworth. The threat is not obvious if you go there.)
KW CLARKE, BRAMFIELD.
Bramfield, until recently was the local slaughterhouse. The rash of new regulations defeated them but the meat cutting plant is still working and all local producers of meat say it is invaluable.
Jeremy Thickett, who runs it, has a farm shop on site, which has recently taken over the local Post Office. It sells a good selection of local foods including their own chutneys, jams, honey, cakes and of course, their own sausages and local meat.
I would really like to think that this is the future of British farming.
THE CIDER PLACE, ILKETSHALL ST. LAWRENCE, SUFFOLK
West Country-style farm cider, made with West Country-style equipment. Just as in the West Country, you can go to the cider farm, taste, and pass out. Also apple juice and cider vinegar.
RUMBURG FARM, RUMBURGH, SUFFOLK
Free-range turkey farm where the turkeys rush to greet you, shouting at the tops of their voices. They are as free-range as you'll get. You order now to collect on Dec. 23 or 24. You can't get a turkey here at any other time of year, but in May, you can get asparagus.
You can also get bed and breakfast and it's a delightful place to stay, as long as you like your country flat.
Local and organic bakery. Their bread is sold in local shops and at farmers' markets. It is very good.
ST. CROSS FARM, SOUTH ELMHAM, SUFFOLK
Mixed farm under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. This means you can walk through the farm to see the ruined minster. On the way, you see British White cows, bred free-range for beef, rearing their calves. You go through fields of cale and potatoes (and peas and wheat in season, although next year they are going to have more set-aside because the wheat made no money.) You see newly planted trees and some old ones left over from the time before the de-forestation of this part of Suffolk. Interesting to look back through generations of farming from this time of transition.
LEISTON, SUFFOLK is the cradle of agricultural machinery. You could say the agro-industrial revolution started here. The ironically named Suffolk Punch tractor was built here during the First World War. Its home is now a museum. It is a lot deader than its namesake the horse. In the jolly nostalgia of a steam museum, I thought soon the occasional factory farm will become a tourist attraction, like concentration camps.
It is very noticeable now that intensive units say PRIVATE, KEEP OUT, with barbed wire, while small farmers mostly welcome the public and are keen to talk about their ideas and products. They are also prepared to talk about animal welfare and this is the greatest change of all.
BOTANY FARM, FARNHAM, SUFFOLK
Eric Moss keeps free ranging Red Polls on the marshes of the upper Alde. He sells the beef locally.
PEASENHALL PANTRY (who also run a café in Peasenhall: very good sandwich) supplies a large range of frozen meals using local ingredients. They do outside catering too.
Eating my BLT sandwich (all local) I stumbled on a natural law:
The more stupid and restrictive rules you invent, the more industrious and inventive people become at getting round them.
It is really encouraging to get your emails. I hope to visit you all in the end
Meanwhile, good luck to all the individualists of Suffolk.
WILLOWS FARM VILLAGE, M25 JUNC. 22. HERTS.
A kind of motorway combination of a city farm and Harrods. Organic, free-range and 'local' produce from all over Europe, but mainly England, is sold here. I didn't find much that was really local, though there was a goats' cheese (CHILDWICKBURY) from St. Albans. Milk is from D&M, ROOKERY FARM, ASTON CLINTON, BUCKS. Otherwise very little British dairy produce. No yogurt. Good meat counter but they don't say where the animals come from. Very few fresh vegetables but, like most farm shops, a good selection of frozen, presumably grown locally, or even by them.
Mission Statement: We believe that much of the best food is made in a traditional manner, by small producers who do not spend millions on building their brands.
Also on site are an expensive clothes shop, a forge and a "farm park" ie. Animals in fields for the public to meet and activities for children. The theme was Halloween.
STURT FARM, BURFORD, OXON.
Free-range venison, beef (Dexter), pork (Saddleback and Wild Boar X), lamb (Radnor), poultry and eggs. Animals in the fields, slaughtered in Whitney, which is 10 minutes away. They also grow fruit, vegetables and herbs.
BIBURY TROUT FARM
Started in 1902, they have spent the last 100 years getting it right. Beautiful setting between the river Colne and Arlington Mill stream, so the trout have fast running water through a series of ponds. The public pay to go in, to feed the fish (which is exciting and well worth 25p), to catch fish, and to buy the finished product, fresh or smoked. The fish look healthy and not over-crowded. The main trade is stocking other trout farms, rivers and lakes, but fresh fish from here are also sold locally.
ABBEY HOME FARM, CIRENCESTER, GLOS.
Very efficient and enjoyable. The building is greatly enlarged since my last visit. The food in the café is excellent, particularly their vegetables, all grown on the farm and pleasingly inventive for late autumn. As you eat, you can read news of the farms animals (sheep, cows, hens, pigs,) and the progress of the vegetables.
The shop sells their own vegetables, meat, eggs, not milk yet "but we're working on it". At the moment their milk goes to Yeo Valley and comes back in the form of butter, yogurt, cheese. They also sell organic produce from round the country and Ecover products in bulk. They make their own charcoal in the woods as well.
TETBURY FARMERS MARKET
HAYMES FARM, SOUTHAM, CHELTENHAM, organic mushrooms.
DUCHY HOME FARM, TETBURY, organic vegetables.
SEVERN VIEW FARM, INGLESTONE COMMON, GLOS. Organic meat and vegetables, woollen clothes, beeswax. I hope to see them.
WHITFIELD ORGANIC BEEF, FALFIELD, GLOS. www.jfrhblair.co.uk
AVALON FRUIT FARM, GREET, GLOS. Fruit juice and cider.
WHARF FARM CAMBRIDGE, GLOS. Goats' and sheeps' milk and cheeses. She was also selling WICK COURT'S double and single Gloucester cheese.
STROUD FARMERS MARKET in serious rain, but Stroud turns out anyway. Eating and music in the streets and so many stalls that I shall leave out some, not because they were less good but because I couldn't see a name. Masses of eager buyers.
4 cheese stalls:
GODSELL CHURCH FARM, LEONARD STANLEY, GLOS
BIRDWOOD FARM, HUNTLEY, GLOS.
CERNEY CHEESE (goats') N. CERNEY, GLOS
WICK COURT, ARLINGHAM, GLOS.
Free range poultry from MADGETTS FARM, TIDENHAM CHASE, CHEPSTOW.
Free range eggs from JAXONS FARM, WHITMINSTER, GLOS.
Meat stalls included:
FULMAYS, NASTEND FARM, STONEHOUSE, GLOS, who keep pigs in the woods.
FROCESTER FAYRE, CHURCH FARM, FROCESTER, GLOS ("Traditional meats, sausages and pies straight from the farm")
ADEY'S FARM Organic meat
NATURE'S FINEST Game. Matthew Wilson Wright 01453 521978
SELSEY HERBS, BISLEY, GLOS
DAY FARM ORGANIC APPLES, juice and cider
HAYLES FRUIT FARM, WINCHCOMBE, GLOS. Also apples, apple juice and cider
And lots of vegetables including
NEWARK FARM ORGANIC VEG.
WARREN PARK FARM, TODDINGTON
DUCHY HOME FARM, HIGHGROVE, TETBURY, GLOS setting a very high standard: beautiful vegetables, excellent choice, totally organic and they now do veggie boxes. Also a very good leaflet about organic farming.
SEVERN VIEW FARM, INGLESTONE COMMON, GLOS.
15 acre smallholding rearing organic sheep, pigs and poultry, all free-range. They have bees and grow vegetables. Shop selling meat, knitting wool and woven rugs and shawls (Shetland and Jacob), honey, beeswax and candles. Pauline and Colin Dixon run the farm and a boarding cattery as a labour of love. They intend to make a profit one day.
One of their greatest concerns is the lack of a local slaughterhouse. There was a mobile unit based at Castle Combe. They were forced to close by all the new regulations, but, now that Defra are on their side, they are hoping to start up again if they can find a base to operate from.
Pauline was thinking of writing to the Prince of Wales to ask if there might be room at Highgrove. Animals from the Duchy Home Farm have to be sent to Cinderford to be slaughtered, as the Dixons' animals do. I said I would support Pauline and write to the Prince as well.
With all good wishes to all my farming friends.
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