Haye Farm in the Tamar Valley have scooped four awards for their organic produce
PUBLISHED: 13:15 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:32 20 February 2013
In this November issue, we visit, Kate and Andy Maciver-Redwood from Haye Farm in the Tamar Valley who have scooped four awards for their organic produce.
Now in its third year, the National Trust's Fine Farm Produce Awards are presented annually to a select few of the Trust's tenant farmers, who excel at producing food or drink that meets the highest standards in terms of environmental and animal welfare, high-quality production methods and taste.
The winning products are benchmarked against a quality supermarket standard, deliberately chosen to be better than average. A taste panel examines and scores all products, with attention given to appearance, standards of preparation, presentation, packaging and labelling, where appropriate. Products are then prepared for sampling and all cooked items are subject to identical cooking conditions.
This year, Kate and Andy Maciver-Redwood from Haye Farm in the Tamar Valley have scooped four awards for their organic produce, and all in their first year of applying! Kate was delighted when she heard the news. "Andy and I are members of a pioneering organic growers' and farmers' cooperative, the South Devon Organic Producers," she said. "We give one another moral support, share crucial information and skills about how to grow this delicious food, and also tips on essential machinery and workforce help with hand planting, weeding and harvesting. The group provides truly scrumptious and healthy food for the Devon-based Riverford Farm box scheme. The ethos of the National Trust Award shares similar values to those held here on Haye Farm, the Cooperative and Riverford."
Late one autumn afternoon, I drove over to Kate and Andy's farm on the Cotehele Estate, near St Dominic, to find out more. Haye Farm is a mixed farm of around 180 acres, with a South Devon cross suckler herd, a flock of Suffolk cross Charolais sheep with some 30 acres given over to vegetables at any one time.
As I get out of my car, I am conscious of the overwhelming silence that those familiar with the beautiful Tamar Valley will recognise. Inside the farmhouse is another matter, as Kate supervises tea for her five young children! "Andy's still working up in the fields," she tells me, whilst juggling squash and cakes. "We've got some Cooperative workers here and for once it's not raining so we're trying to get as much of the calabrese in as possible. I've got to dash off in a minute to take Rosie to ballet lessons but Andy's expecting you up there!" (Where does this young woman find the time and energy to cope with farming as well, I wonder!)
Rosie, with immense confidence for one so young, gives me directions to the field, and accompanied by Issy, a border collie pup with a definite 'aah' factor, I trudge up the winding lane in the gathering gloom to find Andy. Rosie's directions are spot on and I come to the field of calabrese where Andy and half-a-dozen workers are busy hand-picking and sorting.
He tells me how he came to be farming organically in this remote corner of the Tamar Valley. "I was born in Launceston but the family farm was actually in Lydford in Devon. My family have always been farmers and gradually I began to take over the running of the Lydford farm. I used to play rugby for Launceston and I met Kate at a rugby club dinner. About eight years ago the opportunity to take on Haye Farm came up. In fact, we had the tenancy confirmed on our wedding day!"
No sooner had the couple moved in when Foot-and-Mouth disease struck. The farm was not directly affected by the disease, but moving to a new farm is traumatic enough without having to deal with the inevitable restrictions that were put in place, and it set the couple thinking about their future direction. Concerns over animal welfare, particularly in relation to the transportation of stock over long distances and a desire to reduce the dependence on meat production, led Andy and Kate to the conclusion that they needed to create a mixed farm and, at the same time, apply for organic accreditation. Accreditation took two years and the learning curve was steep, but Andy has no regrets. "I'm not too keen on the term 'organic' farming," he tells me. What we are doing here is returning to the old methods of farming. It's better for the animals and we are told it tastes great and fresh and it's supposed to be better for you - higher in vitamins, minerals and some essential fatty acids."
A common perception is that organic farming is significantly less cost-effective than modern farming, but Andy says that the differences are not as great as one might suppose. "It's true that yields are lower and that the old methods are more labour-intensive but against that you have to take into account the massive increase in the price of fertiliser and other chemicals. The demand for organic food is growing all the time and we get a good fixed price for our vegetables from Riverford. As for the meat, we barely used to break even on it but in recent years that's improved significantly."
Whatever the whys and wherefores of organic versus modern food production, the judges on the National Trust Awards panel had no doubt about the quality of Andy and Kate's produce. They praised both the minced beef and the leg of lamb for its taste, appearance and texture, and the Claudia broad beans and Charlotte potatoes for their sweet, fresh, earthy taste. "Riverford Organics take everything we produce at Haye Farm," Andy tells me. "You can buy our food at any of the farm shops or through the box schemes."
It's good to meet people so obviously happy and enthusiastic about what they do, and Andy and Kate deserve their success. As I prepare to take my leave I ask Andy if he ever gets despondent. "Occasionally," he admits. "But then the next day something goes really well, the sun comes out and suddenly everything's fine!"