At the beginning of this month’s issue we started a conversation about simple ideas that are helping thousands of young people get into farming. Farming models that provide an alternative perspective on food production and consumption based on a deep commitment to caring for the land and bringing a diverse range of responsibly raised food products to their community.
Over the last two weeks we’ve been discovering how one of these alternative models works. Stream Farm is built on the share farming model – an idea in response to the overwhelming evidence that the “bigger is better” model is causing more damage than they are worth. A farming approach that shows us how the countryside is better-served by having large numbers of small farmers all helping each other, instead of the increasingly large mechanised farms who only deal with supermarkets.
Last week we met Sam and discussed how produce from your local farm (or, at least, Stream Farm!) is not only cheaper but a much better alternative, we continued to learn how the share farming model works, and we found out about his Natural Spring Water and Organic Apple Juice production on the farm.
This week we meet an organic chicken farmer who also happens to be named Sam. We find out how Sam and his wife George got into farming, what difference the share farming approach at Stream Farm has made to their lives, and how their organic Devonshire Gold chickens – a slow growing strain of the Hubbard breed – are unlike the commercial supermarket birds.
ABOUT BEING A FARMER
Tell us how you got into farming?
We met James, who set up Stream Farm, at the Sustainability Fair in Taunton. We got chatting and were really excited about what they were doing. The more we thought about it, the more we loved the idea of farming. A few months later we were chicken farmers!!
What were you doing before?
I was working as a delivery driver, delivering organic produce funnily enough. Before that I was qualified as a plumber. So there is quite a big contrast to farming! But all those skills I had acquired are now proving to be very useful.
With over 50 local customers you must get to know lots of people who live locally – do you feel a part of the community?
Yes definitely. We deliver every week ourselves and love meeting local people, and talking about what we are doing. People are actually really interested in the way we farm and I think they really like to meet us. We are always looking out for new customers as well in the Taunton and Bridgwater area. And we also have a really good group of people who buy from us in Bristol. So do get in touch if you want to be part of our delivery round. If we can get more customers then we are a step closer to building a sustainable farming business.
As we build relationships with them we often find that naturally they begin to buy other produce from Stream Farm – many of them buy Vernon’s rainbow trout. There are so many other great farmers that work alongside us that is nice to be able to promote them as well. We feel pretty proud that the land we farm is also farmed to rear or grow other amazing produce. For example James’ organic pedigree Dexter cows are often grazing around our chicken sheds, as are Matt’s organic pedigree Hampshire Down lambs. In the field next door is the organic orchard and natural spring. And I am sure our honey bees fly over our sheds!
What do you customers say about your chickens and your approach to farming?
All of our customers are delighted with the quality of our chickens – some of them have been loyal customers now for 5 or 6 years. So many people say that our chicken tastes like the chicken they used to eat when they were growing up – it’s chicken as chicken should taste. Proper chicken we call it! Which is a great compliment to us. They like to know that the chickens have lived in good conditions, with plenty of space to roam around outside and with the best feed.
ABOUT SHARE FARMING
Do you think you could have ever farmed outside of a share farming context?
Never! Neither my family or George’s were farmers, and we didn’t have the money to buy our own land or equipment so it’s hard to see that we would have ever had a realistic chance to farm chickens for ourselves.
So what difference has the share farming approach at Stream Farm made to you and George?
Well, it has opened a way into farming for us – we have had the chance to put all of our skills from before into building a farming business. And it also opened up a gateway into farming ourselves once we feel it’s time to move on. We now have the skills, the contacts and some capital that could allow us to start out own farming venture.
What have you learned since you turned your hand to farming?
We’ve obviously learned a lot about chickens – and the way to look after them. We have also learned a lot about what it means to run an agricultural business. Neither of us had ever run our own business before we arrived but we were very keen to give it a shot. I think we have also learned that farming is hard work and that you learn by experience! I think we’ve seen that when farmers work together and cooperate then small scale farming becomes a lot more viable. On Sunday evenings I catch chickens to go to slaughter and usually one of the farmers gives me a hand – that makes life so much easier. Just small things like that, it makes the world of difference.
ABOUT YOUR ORGANIC CHICKENS
Tell us about your chickens, what breed are they?
They are Devonshire Gold – they are a slow growing strain of the Hubbard breed. Because they grow up to size slowly, in around 80 days, they have a really good quality meat – with proper legs and breast. This is unlike the commercial supermarket birds that are up to size in 30-40 days.
So what makes an organic chicken different?
Organic chickens are a step up from free range. They get organic feed – so you know that they are not eating processed or chemically altered foodstuffs. That obviously filters through into the meat that you end up eating. They get plenty of space inside and out to move around – giving them a much more natural body composition. They aren’t vaccinated proactively, instead we only using medication where absolutely necessary; where the welfare of the birds dictates we do so. We don’t pump them with hormones, or with water to make them appear bigger than they really are. We think you can really taste the difference.