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beautifully butchered lamb

beautifully butchered lamb

A month or so ago I was talking on the phone to Julian, a butcher, who was vaguely interested in buying my organic beef and lamb. Having got the business bit out of the way we went on to chew the fat, discussing what effect credit-crunchie-rescessional times were having on the food buying public and in particular on top quality organic produce.

“Do you ever sell privately?” Julian asked

“Yes, yes I do. But not like I used to.” I went on to explain that I’d sold my business a couple of years ago, though I still supplied some of my loyal and special customers. “And it seems to be building up again!”

“Do you ever need a cutter…a butcher?” he asked

“Not really as I still use my original butchers. They know my system as we worked together for years. But saying that, I also know they find it time consuming and a bit of a pain now. Why?”

“Well, I launched the Bike…” I interrupted him in mid-flow

“The Biker Butcher! The organic licensed motor biking butcher.  I know, I know! I saw a flyer. It came with some of the Soil Association bumph, I think. I remember thinking at the time what a great idea. Lots of possibilities and potential. It certainly grabbed my imagination. How’s it going?”

Apparently after an initial favourable reaction and lots of enthusiasm everything went rather quiet. Julian’s been doing the odd bit of butchery for a few farmers, but not what he’d hoped.

We nattered on contemplating all kinds of interesting scenarios. “I know” I said “why don’t you come up when I next have lambs going off. I need a couple for myself. You could cut those and we could chat.”

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

Julian skilfully trims a Guard of Honour

And that’s what happened today. This glorious afternoon Julian, and his partner Maria, whisked down the drive on their motorbike complete with all the tools of the trade. I’d put up a trestle table in the kitchen and in no time Julian was skilfully and carefully cutting and butchering my lambs. Shanks, tender rump joints, racks, Guard of Honour, neck fillets, shoulders, legs, chops – with a bit of French butchery thrown in as a practise run for my French lamb export exploits!

cutting and trimming completed

cutting and trimming completed

We talked about all manner of possibilities and opportunities from communal cutting rooms to training and educational courses. The problems  to be faced and the many benefits gained. It was interesting and I’m sure good things will come of it. BBC Countryfile are filming him this coming week too

In the meantime we have some mouth-watering lamb to enjoy – if supper was anything to go by!

result!

result!

One of the ideas we’ve been toying with since Robert’s voluntary redundancy is running a training centre at Locks Park where we would teach and explore skills useful in our fragile, rapidly changing countryside and world; courses that will help us to adapt to, even survive, a world without fossil fuels and with an unpredictable climate.

wood taken from hedge laying - between five corners and square field

wood and brash from hedge laying - between five corners and square field

Together with producing our own food (hence the biome) being self-sufficient in energy and water is near the top of our agenda. It’s a hugely complex subject with every expert persuasively insistent that their ideas and methods are the best. We’ve read, listened, questioned; investigated, visited and considered. And it’s mighty hard – the more you know the less you know. One thing we are sure of is that wood will play a large part on this holding.

a cord of wood where Olly has been coppicing

cords of wood - Olly's coppicing February 2009

We are self-sufficient in wood.  This year we have only used wood to heat the house – and during a winter that has been reasonably cold too. At present we have two normal domestic woodburners and no efficient state-of-the-art wood boiler with accumulator (though this is a distinct possibility for the future). Our burning wood, in the main, comes from our hedgerows; it’s first cut into four foot lengths, stacked in cords and left to mature for two years before it’s cut to burning size and stored for the coming winter’s use in the woodshed.  In previous years our hedgerow wood supply has been ample as we’ve run it alongside an oil boiler. But now we need to increase our supply.

The same area of woodland 18 years ago - Robert chain sawing

The same area of woodland 18 years ago - Robert working with chainsaw

So Olly has been coppicing in our small farm wood.  He is re-working a coupe that we last coppiced when we first arrived at the farm 18 years ago.  The willow, ash and birch stools have produced poles which are of just the right size for the wood burners without having to split the logs.  Our only worry is that roe deer will nibble off the re-growth this time round – there are more deer about now it seems – so Olly is covering the cut stumps up with the brushwood in the hope that this will deter them enough to let some shoots get away. If that fails we will have to erect a temporary fence.

piles of brushwood protecting the freshly cut stumps from roe deer

piles of brushwood protecting the freshly cut stumps from roe deer - good habitat for invertebrates too.

While I was taking the photos a female Roe deer and her yearling twins were browsing around the edge of Olly’s coup. They seemed quite unconcerned by my (and the dogs) presence, only moving off when I tried to get closer to take a picture of them. Cheeky!

coppicing

coppicing - the young trees left are replanted Ash

“Oh and one more thing. Do you have any information about sending organic meat to France?”

I was on the phone to the Soil Association (SA).

“No, it’s definitely dead.” I said “Yes, and butchered. The same I supply to customers in the UK. You know vac-packed, labelled, insulated boxes, ice packs, pretty paper, recipes…”

I listened.

“It’s not a great quantity. No. It’s for my son. Yes, he lives in France and he, his future wife and family want my meat.”

Ben and Berengere had asked if it was possible to send my beef and lamb down to them in Marseille.  As I was talking to the SA anyway I thought it  as good a place as any to start my enquiries.

But unfortunately they had no information on exporting organic meats, only importing. DEFRA, she thought, should be my next port of call.

I called DEFRA.  If I want information about FMD/Bluetongue: press 1. Avian flu: press 2. The whole farm approach: press 3. Helpline: press 4. I pressed… another list of options and choices – yes, helpline again: press 9.

A very helpful and efficient person answered. No, they didn’t have any information on the export of organic meat but they could give me the number of the department that did.

Animal Health – yup, if I called them they would have all the answers. I was given the local phone number and a call reference number too. Excellent, I thought.

I phoned Animal Health. Heavens no, they didn’t have any information about exporting meat to France. Yes, they used to but it had all be centralised. Did DEFRA really say they could help? Well, how out of date were they?

I was directed to call the centralised Animal Health Export Centre in Carlisle where they could definitely help me.

I called. Those options again…cats, dogs and ferrets to the EU. Cats, dogs and ferrets not to the EU. Livestock and germplasm (germplasm?). Live animals, dead animals, other animals, meat and dairy…that was it. I pressed.

“I wondered if you could help me with necessary licences and/or regulations needed for the export of a small quantity of organic beef and lamb to my son in France.”

“No, sorry, we don’t deal with exports of meat to the European Union. We only negotiate with third world countries. Actually, in reality, we work with the world. All of it. “

“France? It’s in the world.” I squeak

“No, we have nothing to do with the European Community. You need to talk to the French Embassy.”

“The French Embassy?” I’m amazed.

“Yes, google it.”

“Okaay. Google it?”

“Yes.”  She softened and giggled, warming in quite a conspirital way “Actually I go to France quite a bit for my holidays. You can find out all sorts of things from the Embassy site, about where to stay, what to eat and how to drive there. Really good maps and advice too.”

“As well as the export of meat?” I try to bring her back to the point in question.

“Oh yes, I should think so.” She replied, crisp and business like again “It’s them, after all, who look after their borders.”

I said a small thank you and did a search for the French Embassy. Loaded the English version and dialled the helpline number.

The options were spoken in French, which is much prettier, so I listened again, then again, and again…eventually someone picked up – they must have a signal for ‘imbecile-on-line’.

She spoke in French. I asked her politely if she wouldn’t mind talking to me in English as I wasn’t too sure of the correct way to ask about exporting meat. With a very French ‘Pooffe’ and a Gallic shrug reverberating down the phone, she replied in perfect English.

“Export of meat? You’re asking me?”

“Well yes, I was told you may be able to help?”

“No, this is London.” She replied with icy clarity “London.  You need the French Department of Agriculture. Possibly the science department.”

“Oh. Could you put me through to them please?”

Without any hesitation the phone was ringing again. Another list of fast spoken options, in French. Ah, but wait…if I didn’t understand, it said in English, hold and I would be answered! A very proficient woman answered and changed to English immediately she heard my voice.

I repeated my question.

“Why are you asking me?”

I gave her a potted history of the last two hours.

“How extraordinary” she said “You don’t need us. I can’t believe this. Someone in your country must know!”

I nodded franticly on the phone. “Yes. Yes. I agree. Completely.”

“Well, it’s very obvious. You need to contact the MLC or Eblex. In England!” she says…from France.

“Oh, that’s great. I’m a member of Eblex. Thank you. Thank you so much.” I gabble.

“No problem. They, of course, will know…and good luck.” she threw at me from across the Channel.

I phoned Eblex (in England). A lovely lady answered. I’d come through to the wrong department. But that was okay. She knew exactly the man I needed, one Jean-Pierre Garnier. She would give me his number, but as he’s very, very busy she’d also give me his email. Any problems I was to get back to her and she’d find someone else to help.

I phoned the number. Jean-Pierre’s PA answered. I asked my question.  Jean-Pierre was in Dubai, she said, he’s very, very busy. But she’d see if she could reach him and get back to me as soon as she had. The phone rang within ten minutes.

“I’ve just spoken with him. It’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make quite sure. You see I take meat back home with me to Spain. And yes, it is exactly as I thought…you do nothing.”

ARRGH!

ARRGH!

I can’t quite believe this. There was an email from Pavla this morning

‘Hi Paula,

look what I had waiting for me this morning……… £820 of damage.  I know I have insurance but it’s not the point………

Fed up, fed up………
xx’

smashed

and today - smashed

Her shop window had been smashed – apparently someone thought it might be quite cool to go around busting windows with his fist (and what did his fist look like…?).

The police have arrested him and he’s admitted to doing it. But as Pavla said, ‘that’s not the point’. It’s the hassle; the damage, the organisation, the repairs, the shop being shut, the energy needed to talk to the police, the insurance company, the glass repair business, the carpenter, the decorator and last but not least the excess and the up-front payment while everything is sorted out (and where’s that coming from at a time like this? Falling in bounty from the sky?). This is not something she needs right now.

Pavla, I know everyone’s thoughts will be with you, gunning for you, and hoping our combined energy will make it all a little easier.  My blood boils at the senseless, thoughtless, inane behaviour of the chap who did it, and I just hope the Courts help him to realise the cost to his victims like you through some meaningful reparations.

Apples, apples, apples. A more applier a weekend you’d be hard pushed to find. After our hectic Saturday of collecting up apples we were due to celebrate a friend’s birthday that evening.

Hurrying in for a quick wash down and brush up, Robert shouted from the shower “Where are we going? What are we doing?”
“Um, not too sure. Something about South Zeal, common players and cider? Anyway we’re almost late!”

It was a surprise arranged for Jane, the birthday girl, by another mutual friend and we hadn’t a clue, when we pushed open the door to South Zeal’s Victory Hall,  what to expect. We walked in on one Peasgood Nonsuch’s Heathen Harvest! What? What on earth…? I hear you exclaim.

heathen harvest - an evening of entertainment, music and song

heathen harvest - an evening of entertainment, music and song

So, to explain briefly in the words of the Common Players themselves ‘they are an arts organisation who seek to engage people in a positive and playful way’ – Cider-with-roadies, of which Heathen Harvest is their newly commission evening show, ‘uses creative activity to enthuse people about local produce’.
None the wiser? Not surprised. It’s taken me sometime to get there. But it’s well worth the effort.

Wow; Heathen Harvest is an exuberant roller-coster performance, bursting with energy, based on music hall, slapstick and cabaret traditions. And as we, the audience, sat at tables quaffing cider, feasting on a delicious community harvest supper, we were entertained by the players with an eclectic, hilarious and poignant selection of stories, songs, sketches and puppetry. These had all been drawn from research done by the writer, Jonathon Stokes, of local Devon apple workers and cider makers.

It was tremendous, hugely enjoyable and unexpected. What a way to celebrate Pomona, the goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards.

snapped with my head in a bucket - washing apples!

caught with head in a bucket - washing apples!

Up for an early start on Apple Pressing Sunday. After checking and feeding the stock we loaded the truck – already groaning under the weight of apples – with fermenting barrels for cider and old water containers and saved milk bottles for juice, and departed for our rendezvous with apple mill and cider press. A system soon established itself of apple washing, milling and pressing; filling juice bottles (time consuming), cider barrels (less so), removing the old pressed cheeses to the compost heap, and refilling the press with fresh pulp. We worked hard and relentlessly, breaking for an apple soup, sausages and apple cake lunch, plus a quick cup of tea. It was growing dimpsy as we loaded the last barrel into the truck and hosed down the equipment and barn. And do you know what…we’ve made approximately 185 litres, 320 pints or 40 gallons of cider and 6 gallons of juice! A weekend of pure apple inspiration. Thank you to all who made it possible.

Pomona I salute you!

our cider barrels, waiting to begin their fermentauon

cider barrels, waiting to start their fermentauon

On Friday I went to the Royal Show; not a show I would generally choose to go to. Once a showcase for some of the best examples of British livestock and businesses in the industry, now prohibitive costs and soaring overheads have taken it out of the reach of most exhibitors leaving it to corporate bodies, supermarkets and ubiquitous market stalls to fly the flag.

But I was going for a reason. It was the launch of Hedgelink, a partnership of organisations and individuals leading and supporting the conservation of the UK’s hedgerows, and a project that Robert has been closely involved in over the years and one he’s passionate about. Prince Charles was going to be at the launch. Robert had asked me to go along with him.

nigel with the new hedgelink banner and dvd

We left the farm at the crack of dawn and had a happily uneventful drive up to Stoneleigh, the Royal showground. The day was perfect too. No rain, just sun and clouds with a breeze. The launch was taking place on the Natural England site which is an impressive acre or so of various ponds and plots giving examples in how to encourage wildlife and diversity on farmland and in your garden. The whole was a serene, peaceful green oasis in an otherwise confusing array of stalls and roads.

Leaving Robert to fluster and muster I went off to do a reccy of the showground and inadvertently became caught up in the Prince’s and Duchess’s arrival! I duly shook hands and murmured complete nonsense while being once again taken aback by Charles’s approachability and the genuine interest he shows when talking to people.

Prince Charles with a group of very happy schoolgirls – they were chuffed!

I’ve had contact with the prince before. It was nearing the end of the 2001 FMD outbreak when a small group of us were invited to have tea with him on one of his supportive visits to a devastated West Country. He had apparently followed all my weekly TV video reporting on Countryfile; knew intimate details of my stock and farm; displayed real understanding of the trials and tribulations I and others had been through. In other words he cared, and there was no indication of doing lip service. I like that, a good egg.

Back to Friday. The launch was due at 1pm. Robert was beginning to show signs of stress when a steward appeared and announced the Prince would be there in a few minutes as he was running well ahead of schedule. The place was immediately seething with a plethora of paparazzi and a surge of people. The line-up had only just organised itself when the prince and his entourage arrived. Feeling small and insignificant with my diminutive camera against a bank of monstrous super-zoomed beasts handled by hardened push-hardest-and-shove journos I was startled when I found myself being asked by his personal aide if I’d like to stand practically next to the price to take my photos!

robert shakes hands with the prince

It was a great success. Hands were vigorously shaken; smiles were stretched across faces in wallace & gromit-like proportions; Prince Charles grinned and crinkled, spending a good time with each member of the team discussing the work they had done in creating Hedgelink and the DVD ‘A cut above the rest’. He’s an avid supporter of the hedgerows in our countryside and went away clutching his copy of the DVD.

the prince discussing the finer points of hedgelaying

Having just watched the DVD. I can honestly recommend it to any of you that have even a tiny interest in hedges. It’s beautifully filmed and presented. The clear, practical information is easy to follow and holds your attention to the end. Even though I have a fair knowledge of hedgerows gleaned from Robert I found there’s lots which will make me look at hedges and hedgerow trees in a new light. To see excerpts of the DVD follow the link and also to order your free copy.

Well done Hedgelink!

urban countryside?

I’ve just read an article in the CPRE’s spring edition of Countryside Voice by self-confessed city lover, Robert Elms, who can’t stand the ‘the dreary predictability of muddy little England’. Compared to ‘the buzz, thrill and noisy creative glory of a city’ to him the countryside is ‘a depressing rejection of all that in favour of safe, samey conformity’. And I find myself nodding in partial agreement. Too much of England has become over-sanitised, too safe, too uniform.
Often when Robert (husband) and I return to visit old walking haunts we are surprised to find how much they have changed. Gone are the haphazard pastures and meadows filled with a riot of dandelions and daisies. No more are there crumbling stone or earth banks, gaps stuffed with old bedsprings and handy corrugated iron. Gone is the decrepit rusty fencing tied up with fading fibrous pieces of bailer twine to the nearest gnarled stump of hedgerow bush. Gone too is the exhilarating feeling of a remote and wild place. In its place we find acre after acre of bottle-green nitrogen ryegrass, geometrically divided by straight, neatly trimmed hedges bounded by bright tight squeaky clean fencing. Smart tanalised styles, each with neat dog gate and sporting a brand new painted signpost. Barn conversions all following the same brown-window syndrome

I feel angry, upset and cheated. But, if I’m honest, I can remember thinking once that all that broken decay was a sign of shoddy farming! Okay, so our rush-infested fields and pastures are either a waterlogged, sink-sucking morass or an ankle-breaking, knee-twisting concrete with nothing inbetween, and they are exacting and unproductive, but we are blessed with a farm that has character. It is totally individual and exciting. So we resolve to leave that old dung-spreader where it was in the field corner, not to make any more hedgerows redundant through fencing them, to tolerate those thickets of brambles springing out here and there and to leave that muddy gateway where the house martins collect the mud for their nests.

Would Mr Elms, I wonder, find this countryside – wild, unkempt, unpredictable – a more interesting exchange for his culturally exciting, glorious buzzy urbanity? Or would he still feel all the countryside has to offer is various forms of soil?

to read the whole article see May edition of Devon Today

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk