issue nº5, meet the farmers

MEET THE FARMERS: TIM & JO FROM HIGHER HACKNELL ORGANIC FARM

In our eyes, Tim & Jo Budden are organic farming legends. They’ve been farming at Higher Hacknell Farm for 30 years and were part of a small group of far-sighted individuals who served as a pivotal catalyst in the transition towards a more sustaining, chemical-free way of farming in the 1980s. At a time when animal welfare standards had been thrown off the farmyard and conservation methods involved ripping out hedges and everything else that was beneficial to the local wildlife, Tim and Jo chose to paddle against the destructive flow and work with nature, not against it.

These organic pioneers achieved organic certification in 1988 – all before local and organic was in demand. No small feat! And then driven by determination and desire to make tasty, organic meat widely available, Jo started up the first organic meat box scheme in the UK. We told you, organic farming legends!

On our recent visit to Higher Hacknell Organic Farm, Tim & Jo shared their farming journey, why the farm organically, the challenges they’ve faced, why they chose to raise indigenous South Devon Cattle, and we find out why we should all be eating organic meat.

ABOUT BEING A FARMER

Tim and Jo, tell us about yourselves…

We’ve have been farming at Higher Hacknell Farm for 30 years, since we were in our early twenties and returned from travelling around North and South America where we were inspired by many of the innovative organic farmers we met. Tim was at agricultural college in Devon in the eighties when intensive farming was being encouraged by many but he looked to people like John Seymour who wrote about self-sufficient living as well as the ideas of E. F. Schumacher realising that the future of farming was all about working with nature and not against it.

Why do farm organically?

We started farming organically in 1988, a system which we believe offers many common-sense answers to the problems facing agriculture, the food industry and our environment. Organic standards embrace all aspects of the farming system, most especially animal welfare, wildlife conservation and food safety. We believe that for our future health and well-being, it is the way forward.

This is partly why we farm organically, because we are independently inspected and certified with the Soil Association so people know how we farm, and that all the processes are fully traceable from field to fork. No GM ingredients or artificial ingredients, such as fertilizers, pesticides and preservatives can be used. The organic standards guarantee high animal welfare, truly free range systems and no routine use of antibiotics. Although no system can be perfect, we think all in all, it offers the best farming system and pretty close! It’s all about working with nature.

Can you share your thoughts on the importance of shopping locally and supporting your farmers?

Farmers worldwide are always being squeezed by middlemen, it used to be corn merchants and cattle dealers and now it supermarkets and multinationals. Since we have been farming in the last thirty years, the numbers of farmers that have gone and left the land is beyond count. Mostly it is the harsh reality of economics which means that farming doesn’t pay, particularly for the amount of work involved. So, by selling direct at farmers market or online via the internet,   farmers can get a fair price for their efforts and communicate with their customers about how they produce their food. Shopping locally isn’t about just going to your local butchers if he’s buying all his meat from Brazil in boxes, it’s about knowing where and how that meat is produced.

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ABOUT THE FARM

Tell us about Higher Hacknell Farm – location, size, conservation practices…

Higher Hacknell is a 350 acre farm, set high above the Taw Valley, between Dartmoor and Exmoor. It has numerous small fields with many miles of hedges which all act as wildlife corridors. There are small woodland and ponds around the farm, and we use wood to heat the house and office with a biomass boiler.  We have a cider apple orchard and annually make cider which keeps us going throughout the year, as well as a vegetable garden to keep us in good health!

Besides cattle, what other animals do you rear?

We keep a herd of about 45 pedigree South Devon suckler cows, plus their calves and beef cattle from the previous two years, so over 150 head of cattle on the farm. We also have a flock of 350 Lleyn ewes producing around 500 lambs every year in the spring.

As you look at what you have achieved with the farm, what has been some of the challenges you’ve encountered – physical or managerial challenges, time management, space etc.?

Farming is one BIG challenge! The job never stops, but it is incredibly rewarding too. At this time of year to see the lambs growing and the cows with their calves, is a wonderful sight. The landscape and natural beauty of the area, the blossom in the orchard, the flowers in the hedgerows, they are the things that we appreciate every single day. But there have been many times when we’ve wondered if it’s really worth it. In 2001 we almost lost our herd and flock to Foot and Mouth as our farm was contiguous as the farm next to us was infected and our animals were marked for slaughter. We didn’t believe in killing our healthy uninfected animals and challenged this and fortunately they survived, but we suffered economically. We also get depressed about the misinformation and negative publicity surrounding meat. Recently it’s been said that livestock farming is bad for the environment as it produces methane and is therefore in part responsible for global warming. This is true for intensively reared, feedlot cattle, but not grass fed organic beef.  In fact, low input extensive farming on steep land like ours here, is actually helping the environment because the permanent pasture actually captures and store carbon.

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ABOUT YOUR ORGANIC BEEF

Why do you choose to keep South Devon cattle?

They are an indigenous breed to the area, which is important to keep these native breeds which give our area and food a distinctive and cultural identity. South Devons also make great beef as they have a good size carcass but also plenty of marbling in the meat for flavour and tenderness. They also have better conformation, with a good rounded shape where the higher value cuts are than some other native breeds.

Your cattle graze in rotation with the sheep, the traditional way, can you explain what this means?

We graze sheep on the land which cattle grazed the previous year. This means that we break the cycle for potential disease and worms.

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What are some of the things you want people to know about the meat they buy from you? What should we all know about the meat we eat?

We’d like people to know how much we care about our farming methods and our animals which I’m sure makes the quality and taste of the food we produce better! Our beef is completely traceable from the day it is born, on one side of our farmyard, to the day it leaves here to go to a local abattoir and then back to our farm butchery on the other side of the farmyard.

We sell a full range of cuts of organic meat and people can order online on our website and have a delivery every Thursday or Friday, throughout the UK. We also take orders by phone, on 01769 560909, which is often good so we can offer advice on what to buy, quantities and cooking methods.

Describe some of the ways you sell your meat locally?

We sell from the farm butchery, but it’s quite tucked away down the farm lane so I go fortnightly to Crediton Farmers Market, as well as attending various food fairs and festivals such as the River Cottage Spring Fair.

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FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HIGHER HACKNELL ORGANIC FARM

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