With high-profile debates about national food standards and international trade policy ongoing, it is more important than ever to know about the provenance of our food.
British Food Fortnight is a national celebration of farming and food and takes place from Saturday September 19 to Sunday October 4.
So, along with our Stay Loyal To Local campaign, it is the perfect time to discover the food and drink produced on your doorstep.
This month’s adventure takes us from Local Food Britain’s HQ in South Nutfield, and down the country lanes to the sustainable farming haven of Brightleigh Farm in Outwood.
Here, the cattle roam free, grazing the grassland and vegetation throughout the year and only coming indoors for the worst of the winter.
A family farm
Farmed by mother and daughter partnership Anne Brunton and Penny Vaughan, their prized beef is produced from 100 per cent pasture-fed Hereford and Angus cattle.
It has been a challenging year for British farmers though, as Penny explains. “First, we had the wettest winter in living memory, then one of the hottest and driest springs… and then lockdown hit,” she says.
“Lockdown brought a huge increase in interest in our Pasture For Life certified beef and free-range eggs. At first, we were a little unprepared, but we have worked diligently to open up our pop-up shop on weekends, supplying fresh beef as often as we can plus our eggs and local milk, cheese and other essentials.
“We always have to balance the success of the shop with the daily life of looking after our animals. We move them to new pasture every day, and so it’s very hands on and there are always things to fix and problems to solve.”
The family came to Brightleigh Farm in 1959, when Jim Brunton started a dairy herd with eight Ayrshire cows brought down from Scotland.
The herd grew to more than 100, before poor milk prices led to a change of focus from dairy to beef at the end of the 1990s. It is still very much a family business though.
“Our family pulled together really quickly this year, so we could provide our produce to the community directly. Working with other local producers has been a huge help too.”
Working with local butchers
One of their leading supporters has been The Dorking Butchery, who stock their beef as often as they can get it.
The pop-up shop itself has milk from Nutfield Dairy, honey from Hookhouse Farm in Outwood and Norbury Blue cheese from Albury on the stock list.
While they also have rare breed pigs and free-range hens, it is cattle that remain central to life here – everything is done to work in harmony with nature to support them.
“The soil is the beating heart of Brightleigh Farm, as healthy soil means healthy grass and plants, which in turn means healthy animals and nutritious meat,” says Penny.
“The carbon footprint of grass farms is significantly lower than those where cereal crops are grown to feed animals.”
“One thing that this pandemic has shown us is that our food system is broken. Food shouldn’t need to be transported, processed and packaged as much as it is.
“Buying from your local producers keeps the carbon footprint to a minimum, is fresher and retains more nutrients, so it is better for us and the planet. Plus, supporting small, local businesses keeps communities alive and ensures going forward that food will always be accessible.”
So, if you’re planning a Sunday roast or barbecue, think twice before taking the latest two-for-one offer of “meat from somewhere” from the supermarket, check a map or your local butcher and see if you can find people like Brightleigh Farm producing high quality, high welfare and delicious meat instead.
- This article originally appeared in Local Food Britain's monthly Meet the Producer food and drink column in Surrey Life magazine.
Photo: Nigel and Penny at Brightleigh Farm, Surrey – courtesy of Dorking Butchery
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