Annual awards recognise the very best farm food producers
The best farm food producers have been recognised at the National Trust’s annual Fine Farm Food Awards, presented at BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace.
Now in their twelfth year, the awards aim to prove that sustainable food isn’t just better for nature, it tastes better too. They celebrate the very best produce from the Trust’s 1,500 tenant farmers and estates, who look after more than 500,000 acres of grazed pasture, orchards and arable farmland. Products are not only assessed for taste, but also against a range of environmental standards, to guarantee the quality and origin of products alongside high levels of production.
Conygree Farm, part of the Sherborne Estate in Gloucestershire was presented with the prestigious Farming with Nature award by Charlotte Smith, presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, in the National Trust Cookery Theatre at the Countryfile Live event yesterday (03 August).
“The standard of produce this year has been higher than ever before”, said Rob Macklin, the National Trust’s Head of Food and Farming. “It has been a pleasure for the judges to see producers associated with National Trust land and coast have risen to the challenge of producing fine farm food. We were amazed at the standards of the nominations, which show that the highest standards of farming can deliver excellent produce and work hand in hand with nature. These awards recognise the very best producers from National Trust estates.
From amongst the winners in food and drink categories, we have also made a special award to the farmers making greatest achievements with regard to farming with nature as judged by our food and farming team,” he added.
Trust Food and Farming Advisors across the country felt that Conygree Farm’s Mel and Jonty Brunyee have shown the greatest commitment to managing and restoring habitats, demonstrating best practice with soil and water and promoting farming and nature conservation. Alongside producing traditional Hereford cattle and rare-breed Cotswold sheep, they have reverted 100 acres of former arable land to herb-rich grassland and created field margins with a wide variety of nectar rich plants to attract pollinators and support a range of farmland wildlife including birds such as corn bunting, lapwing and skylark.
Rebecca Charley, Food and Farming Advisor for the Trust’s South West region, said: “Mel and Jonty have successfully matched native breed livestock to species rich grassland, resulting in high quality meat whilst benefiting pollinators, birds and soil. Over the past decade Conygree Farm has developed impressive field margins and flower-rich meadows.”
Mel and Jonty Brunyee said: “The way we farm, with nature at the heart of all we do, can be hard but also very rewarding. We are creating a range of diverse wildlife habitats that are full of colour and life, rebuilding soil and producing a very tasty rare breed pasture-fed meat.
“Farming with nature has to be in your heart but it’s always tempting to push the farm harder, tidy up fallow areas and scrubby corners, and swap native flowers for more productive grasses. Leaving space for nature across the whole farm can look untidy and isn’t always the most profitable. You have to stick with it. The Farming for Nature Award recognises this effort and passion and encourages us to keep going. We love what we do and it’s great that others do too.”
Winner of the Overall Food Award was Standleys Barn Farm and Butchery for its pork loin. Managed by the Hallifield family, the farm comprises of 600 acres of mixed farming at the heart of the Calke Abbey Estate in Derbyshre, where traditional breeds of British Lop and Berkshire pigs enjoy a diet of home-grown clover silage.
Farmer Daniel Hallifield has developed a high-welfare system over the past two years and his exceptional care in animal husbandry is matched by his skill as a butcher, resulting in a traditional-breed pork loin that tastes superb. It was described by Claire Thomson, National Trust Food Ambassador and one of this year’s judges as “the best bit of pork ever tasted; sweet, creamy and juicy with an amazing texture.”
Daniel Hallifield said: “It is always nice to receive recognition for things, especially when you put so much into an enterprise. It’s doubly good to receive because it’s more evidence that our system for feeding the pigs home grow protein rich silage not only improves their wellbeing, but also the flavour and quality of the meat. Forage based feeding also goes well with the environmental programs to enhance the pastures and create woodland pastures we have running on the farm.”
He added: “We use traditional breeds of pig, Berkshire and British Lops, because they well suited to the forage based diet. We believe that they have a superior flavour to the more modern breeds, but it’s also important to the breeds that people farm them; otherwise they would cease to exist.”
Quote from Daniel Hallifield
Winner of the Overall Drinks Award for its Medium Sparkling Cider was the 6,500 acre Killerton Estate near Exeter, one of the largest estates looked after by the National Trust. Completely hand-picked, this medium cider scored most highly for its full-flavoured, complex character with notes of toffee apple and subtle smokiness.
Killerton’s 50 acres of orchards are home to over 100 traditional apple varieties including the oddly named ‘Slack-ma-girdle’ and ‘Hangy Down’ varieties, with some trees over a century old. Managed naturally, these diverse orchards are a real haven for wildlife and the estate team are passionate about maintaining the trees for their botanical and historic interest, as well as for their harvest.
“Harvesting the apples is a real community effort, local people, Trust staff and volunteers all get involved” said Fi Hailstone, Killerton Produce Ranger, “The apples are collected by hand and then crushed on site using a 200 year old traditional cider press.”
“Killerton cider is created through a passion to manage the countryside in a sustainable way. Traditional orchards are important for biodiversity and more generally a really beautiful place to spend time. Any profits from sales go straight back into the conservation work at Killerton, helping us to plant lost orchards and to look after the current ones, for everyone to enjoy.”
In total 21 producers were recognised for 33 fantastic food, drink and countryside products, ranging from spring lamb and organic flour to dressed crab and sparkling cider. The produce was judged by a panel of nine food and drink experts, including Clive Goudercourt, the National Trust’s development chef.
For more information about the awards and or find out more about this year’s award winning products and producers, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/fine-farm-produce-awards