For trout farmer Vernon, providing his community with high quality, clean, tasty trout while regenerating the land, ponds and lake he is stewarding is what he does best. Since joining the Stream Farm team, the fishery has gone from strength to award-winning strength, a testament to Vernon’s incredible work ethic and passion for his profession.
On a recent visit to Stream Farm, Vernon shared his thoughts on the importance of supporting local farmers, what we should all know about the fish we eat, and an insight into how the share farming model works…
ABOUT BEING A FARMER
What do you feel has been your biggest personal accomplishment?
Winning the Best Fresh Fish in the South West at the Taste of the West Awards in 2013 was a pretty good moment. It was a really good encouragement for myself and for James – we had invested a lot of effort into producing a fish that tasted great. But if I am totally honest the biggest accomplishments are when I take my rainbow trout to food fairs. There is always a real buzz around how good the taste is, and I see people getting really excited about getting hold of my trout. I want to see everyday people eating more locally caught fish – so it’s always a big achievement to talk to the people who are inspired by our great taste.
Can you share your thoughts on the importance of shopping locally and supporting your local farmers?
To me, it makes sense that as a customer you want to know where your food comes from. You want to know how it was produced. You want to know and trust the farmer behind it. We are used to shopping one way in this day and age, at the supermarket, and it will take a lot for us to change the way people think about it. But it has to start somewhere, so why not here? Here at Stream Farm I am surrounded by people who are making a living from farming. Each farmer works hard to make really good quality produce in a way that is sustainable. I think that’s something we should all support.
ALL ABOUT THE FARM
Tell us a little bit about Stream Farm and how the share farming model works…
So I am a ‘share farmer’ – or perhaps we should call it share fisherman in my case. I take a share of the income made from selling Fresh and Smoked Rainbow Trout. That’s enough to support me for the time I put into it, and it means that over time the farm gets its money back on what it invests in producing those fish.
As you look at what you have achieved with the fishery and how it’s grown over the last few years, what has been some of the challenges you’ve encountered raising these fish – physical or managerial challenges, time management, space etc.?
I have always had a passion for fish – so, producing healthy, tasty fish came naturally. I suppose we had a big challenge when we were on the hunt for the perfect smoking recipe. It’s a fine art to smoke a trout well, and there are not a lot of people out there who do it well. In the end our hard work has paid off because I believe we have a product that looks and taste the best.
ABOUT THE TROUT
Your trout are stream-fed. Can you explain what this means?
Stream-fed means that there is a constant flow of fresh water through the ponds. The reason we do this is to maintain the quality of the water in which the fish live. You don’t want the water sitting still for too long or getting too dirty; that leaves the trout tasting earthy. We are hugely blessed here on the Quantock Hills to have great quality water. I’ve always thought the better the water, the better the fish tastes. Perhaps that’s why these fish have won so many awards!
What are some of the things you want people to know about the trout they buy from you? What should we all know about the fish we eat?
There are a lot of issues surrounding the sustainability of how a fish is sourced. If we just think about freshwater fish you firstly want to know exactly where the fish came from. Once you know that you can get a bit more detailed – what are the water and environmental conditions, how much space do they have and what do they eat? So for our fish we are able to say the water quality is fantastic, they have plenty of space and they eat organic feed. We also want more people to understand that fish is a really good part of a healthy diet because research says that it is a great source of proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
What trout products do you make?
Firstly I sell some as whole fresh trout – this means they are caught, gutted and delivered to your door within 24 hours. Secondly I hot smoke our trout fillets with oak. We are considering other woods, for the smoking oven, and will at some stage sell pate.
Describe some of the ways you sell your products locally…
I sell some of the trout to local people in Taunton, Bridgwater and Bristol. At Stream Farm we believe that consumers should be buying direct from their local farmers or fishermen where possible, so we can deliver to the door for free ever Wednesday. The trout are also in high demand from local restaurants, hotels and delis – so I supply them as well.
What is your favourite trout recipe?
To be honest I like to keep it simple and let the flavours of the fish do the talking – take a nice fresh rainbow trout, a couple of slices of lemon and a bit of parsley in the middle, wrapped in foil, into the oven. Delicious!
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT VERNON & STREAM FARM