Sunday, 20 June 2010

Fordhall Farm - the Future of Farming?

As oil prices increase and the cost of flying food around the world increases, local farming will almost certainly become more important; and increasing relocation of services and manufacturing overseas will make the production of tangible, local goods the best way to guarantee a wage.

Add to this the growing movement away from industrialised farming and farms like Fordhall Farm in Shropshire, England, look set to go from strength to strength and increase in numbers in the coming years.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or check in on my meals page from time to time will have noticed I eat a lot of animal products, some of which are a little unusual. Heart, liver and kidney are menu regulars. Sometimes I make a meal of chicken bones. Whatever I am eating, the fat always gets consumed, even if this means great forks full of pork rind.

And if you've read the Making the Most of Animals articles you'll know why Mrs M and I feel able to eat like this - because the meat we get from Fordhall is naturally reared, full of good fat and free of antibiotics and other nasties.

(Well, okay, Mrs M doesn't eat what she considers the really weird stuff, but she'll certainly eat most of the fat that's put in front of her. God help anyone who tries to take some crackling from her plate. )

As I mentioned in the first Animals post, much of the offal we get from the farm is free, because otherwise it would get thrown away. I was curious to know more about this and to understand why other people buy their meat from Fordhall farm, so I sent Ben Hollins, Fordhall Farm Manager, some questions a few months back.

I was recently inspired to finally put metaphorical pen to paper by a trip to a great summer fair at Fordhall (more about this below) and by Girl Gone Primal's article last month about Farmer Dan, from whom she has now started ordering meat, also including some free offal.

Why do People Buy Meat at Fordhall?

First of all, I wondered why other customers bought their meat from Fordhall farm - was it because, like me, they wanted to give their bodies better nutrition, or was it because of the smaller scale, environmentally and community-friendly approach to farming they take? Or was it because, by rearing the animals properly, they created better-tasting meat?

A recent customer survey provides some insight:

According to Ben,

The flavour contained in Fordhall meat is often described as 'As it used to be' or 'like real meat'. All the cattle and sheep at Fordhall are reared purely on grass and this in its self has lots of benefits apart from the flavour. Grass fed cattle are known to have greater tasting meat, better marbling, higher levels of omega 3 and many other nutritional benefits.

Dr Mercola in USA has done lots of research into this and we find we have a lot of new customers come to us after reading his work.

It was interesting to see Ben reference Dr Mercola (his site is here for those not familiar with him), who of course is often linked to from Paleo blogs. If customers are mentioning him, then they must certainly be interested in more than just the taste and the ethos.

Is Offal Becoming More Popular?

In the first Animals post I was unsure whether I wanted people to wake up and see the value of offal. After all, it is thanks to widespread ignorance about its benefits and squeamishness about eating it that I am getting it free myself.

According to Ben, there is a slight trend towards more offal eating, but they still "...throw away the occasional heart and tongue," which as far as I am concerned are the best parts.

Does Cost Matter?

I was also curious about was cost. People often say they can't afford to eat higher quality, organic meat - but my view is that buying low quality meat is a false economy unless you are willing to eat the fat as well, which has health implications.

Buying quality meat and eating all of it brings the cost per calorie closer to that of the industrialised alternatives, something I discuss in the second Animals post, Glorious Fat.

Looking at the results of the Fordhall survey we can see that cost features relatively low down in customer motivation. From just these figures there's no way of knowing whether their customers are just rich enough not to care, or alternatively because they have committed to spending what is necessary to lead a healthy life.

Organic, free-range meat is more expensive than its industrially produced equivalent, and I am sure the meat at Fordhall is no exception. But I did wonder whether people were taking advantage of the cost per calorie benefit potential. I asked Ben whether he thought people were eating, or throwing away, all that wonderful fat. He said:

I have a number of customers who buy from me purely because our meat is grass fed, these people sometimes ask that we do NOT trim any fat as they understand the difference between this fat and that of intensively reared meat. Others do not eat the fat as they are buying from me for different reasons.

The Importance of Community

It's clear from the survey that 'Ethos' is an important part of why people come to Fordhall for their meat.

I like the history of Fordhall Farm, because it involves one of my least favourite junk-peddlers, Muller, whose low-fat, carb-laden yogurts and other ghastly offerings propagate the low-fat doctrine and contribute to failed diets everywhere.

Muller owns a nearby factory that can be seen from the fields of the farm. They had wanted to buy the farm land in the eighties, presumably to erect more unsightly edifices, but after a long and determined battle by the family and friends of the family, a community-ownership scheme was established instead. This saw the farm safely owned by 8000 members of the community and being run by Ben and Charlotte.

Beer Festival and Hog Roast

There is a strong sense of community and environmental responsibility in the way they run the farm, and there are regular events and volunteer days. Mrs M and I managed to stop by a recent summer fair and beer festival, the highlight of which (for me, anyway) was a hog roast. By the time we arrived, the 100% free-range, chemical free pastured, antibiotic and growth-hormone-free hog had been all but consumed.

Ben Hollins with what was left of the Hog Roast when we arrived

Some activities at the fair - note the existing Muller factory, sulking in the background.

My delicious plate of pork and crackling.

The Future

Fordhall is currently expanding - a major project is due for completion next year.

The new development will expand the butchery capabilities, provide somewhere for visitors to eat and educational facilities for children. It will realise the vision from 2006 when the Fordhall Community Land Initiative was originally formed with those 8000 shareholders.

More information about the project can be found here.


Asclepius said...

Getting quality food from a local source and eating ALL parts of an animal is a massive statement of environmental conscience.

Personally my 'survivalist genes' must be kicking in - in the last few years I have progressed through the following:

1. buying organic,
2. buying local
3. growing my own veg and fruit
4. considering buying a smallholding,
5. foraging for food.

Stage 5 has kicked off with some 'How-To' books on the subject. I still follow 1 and 2 above, and increasingly am trying to 'grow my own' but am keen to develop foraging skills. Only fear of picking something nasty holds me back. Experience is everything. Stage 6 will be 'hunt my own food' but for that I will need to put a bit more pressure to bear on Mrs A!

Fishing and seashore foraging provides a happy transition from foraging to hunting.

Methuselah said...

Asclepius - I am impressed. I'd love to grow some stuff but I doubt Mrs M would be impressed if I turned our apartment balcony into a veg patch! The hunting idea is a great one too but the same challenge applies if one is a city dweller. However, since my running partner Lightning has a gun, a license, and a kanck for surprising stupid rabbits, I recently enjoyed truly wild food, shot by another member of my tribe (one step better than it being shot by someone I've never met before!)... (photo of it)

Unknown said...

Great products from Fordhall, I have been buying from there for a few months. Great to see them getting some publicity!

Asclepius said...

I need to qualify - 'grow my own'. I buy more than I grow, but am trying to redress the balance.

Good work with the gun and rabbit!

Methuselah said...

A - Growing anything is good in my books. Takes years to learn the art, so starting early is good. Same applies to catching rabbits, probably!

Lightning said...

Love the photo of the rabbit.

I will provide for our tribe again soon.

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