Food and Farming with the Jefferies: Farm Diversification

British farms are diversifying – here's how we can support them this winter

By Jenny Jefferies | 11 months ago

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In our new column, husband-and-wife duo John and Jenny Jefferies will give us some insight into life on their south Cambridgeshire farm. John is a farmer, while Jenny is a food writer, having penned books like For The Love Of The Land. They’re both passionate about British farming, and will share their expertise with C&TH on a bi-monthly basis. This November, they tell us all about farm diversification, plus share a farming-inspired Christmas gift guide.

Food and Farming with the Jefferies: Farm Diversification

What is farm diversification?

Farm diversification, or developing new and differing income streams into the business, has become a vital part of UK agriculture. All too often farm businesses find that they are squeezed between increasing input prices and reducing farm gate prices for their products. Supermarkets are notorious for selfishly pushing prices as low as possible. When you see a two for one promotion on a fresh product (such as strawberries), the supermarket goes to the farmer and tells them that they are supplying their strawberries at half price or they will take the contract away.

So developing other income streams is vital for farm survival. However, this frequently takes a farmer into a place where they have not been and where they have little or no experience: the need to establish a brand and a market. This is extremely challenging and very difficult. A nearby farm failed with their superb cold pressed sunflower oil for this exact reason. So both market research and marketing is vital, both of which can cost a lot of money.

Tourism is another venture that farmers frequently look into. This can be easier – again, it depends on the local market. I am aware of one venture in Cornwall that took six months to book its first guest. However, with the advent of various accommodation platforms on the internet, this can be avoided, at a cost of commissions of up to 25 percent.

Cowdray Farm Shop

Cowdray Farm Shop

Selling your product directly to the public is also a common theme. Here the use of the internet and social media is vital. It is now possible to have exceptional quality food delivered to your door; we recently bought half a Hardwick lamb from a farm in Cumbria.

The key to a successful farm diversification is hard work and taking sound advice. Cost control is vital as too is building a name and reputation. Care needs to be taken at all times, as a failed diversification can take down the farm business and sadly there are too many examples of this. However, a successful enterprise can fly and provides a great deal of satisfaction, as well as jobs and opportunity in the wider rural community.

With the difficult challenges that are facing British farmers today – the increase in price of fertiliser, fuel, post-Brexit, post-pandemic, seasonal labour shortages, cost of living and the war in Ukraine – it’s really important now more than ever before, to show our support by buying locally, buying sustainably, buying seasonally and buying British. 

Here is a list of 10 enchanting products that can be given to loved ones this Christmas, whilst at the same time, supporting the diversification of farmers across the UK. 

Christmas Gifts To Buy From UK Farms

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Belvoir Farm Mulled Winter Cordial

Belvoir Farm Mulled Winter Cordial 500ml, £3.29, ocado.com

At Belvoir Farm, they have been helping nature do its thing since 1984, caretaking the wild eco-systems of their little corner of Leicestershire to help them flourish. This is a delicious, festive, non-alcoholic, warming blend of cranberry and orange with winter spices. It’s 100 percent natural and with 68 percent real fruit juice; carefully selected, crafted with nature, simple ingredients, free from all artificial ingredients, sweeteners and preservatives, and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Eco Ewe Cableknit Jumper

Eco Ewe Cableknit Jumper, £295, etsy.com

Eco Ewe in Norfolk is an example of an amazing farming business that diversifies not just in producing food for all of us to enjoy, but also in sustainable production of their sheep with lovely woolly jumpers.

This is their debut Norfolk Horn British Conservation Rare Breed ‘Elizabeth’ Cable Jumper from their luxury British brand. The Elizabeth consists of an intricate net stitch, providing you with a detailed textured design which sits comfortably on the hips. Each jumper is made using a fully-fashioning knitting process meaning each piece of the garment is knitted separately and then sewn together. Wear this jumper with great pride by backing British farming and feel warm and cosy at the same time.

Heather Pearson’s Online Yoga Gift Voucher

Heather Pearson’s Online Yoga Gift Voucher, from £45, heatherpearsonyoga.com 

Heather, her husband Tom, and their children, live and work on their regenerative arable farm in South Cambridgeshire. Heather started her yoga business because she wanted a career that was flexible around farm life and family life. As an avid gravel cyclist herself, Heather understands that life is busy and fitting yoga in on top of other commitments can be a challenge. That is why she works with clients to create personalised yoga programmes that they can fit into their own schedules, without it feeling like an additional stress or burden.

For The Love Of The Land II by Jenny Jefferies

For The Love Of The Land II by Jenny Jefferies, £22, jennyjefferies.co.uk 

This topical sequel is full of delicious recipes and fascinating stories from the British farming community and features a foreword by Jimmy Doherty, as well as a chapter on Jimmy’s Farm & Wildlife Park, which is known for rare and heritage UK breeds that Jimmy is particularly passionate about. 

Of course, at the heart of what all these farmers do is producing great food and there’s no better way to celebrate that than to cook their favourite recipes. Suitable for home cooks of any skill level, this book is also the perfect read for anyone who is interested in where their food comes from.

Helen Browning’s Pig Coffee Cup

Helen Browning’s Pig Coffee Cup, £12 each, helenbrowningsorganic.co.uk 

Helen Browning OBE is an organic livestock and arable farmer at Eastbrook Farm in Wiltshire, a pub landlady and the Chief Executive of the Soil Association. A pioneer in organic farming, she tenant-farms 1,500 acres that is rented off The Church of England. 

Eastbrook is a very diverse organic farm. As well as farming, she also runs their village pub, with its own little hotel and shop in the middle of the farm. Their shop is graced with lovely pottery, including these coffee cups decorated with their signature pig and bird. Their delightful range of crockery is all handcrafted and made by Aston Pottery.

Parrish Farm’s Christmas Pickling Kit

Parrish Farm’s Christmas Pickling Kit, from £15.95, parrishfarms.co.uk

Parrish Farms have been farming in Bedfordshire for nearly 100 years, producing around 900 tonnes of pickling onions and shallots each year, so they know a thing or two about growing premium quality produce.

Get ready for Christmas with their best-selling Parrish Farms Pickled Onion Kits. Their Pickling Kits, which come in an onion or shallot option, make for a wonderful holiday activity or Christmas gift for your foodie friends.

Humble by Nature Gift Voucher

Humble by Nature Gift Voucher (Kate Humble’s farm), a learning gift voucher, humblebynature.com

Humble by Nature is a busy working farm owned by broadcaster and writer Kate Humble. The farm is home to a thriving rural skills centre with a wide range of courses and events and delightful holiday accommodation. Courses include smallholding and animal husbandry; traditional rural skills and crafts; and food and cookery.

Farm Themed Knitted Hats by Beth Withers

Farm Themed Knitted Hats by Beth Withers, £24.99, tractortots.co.uk 

Beth is married to Tom, a farmer, and they have three young boys. They run a mixed arable and livestock farm in south west Birmingham that feeds into their local family butchers.They used to have that classic struggle to get their toddlers dressed with tantrums, running away, throwing themselves on the floor… But the worst culprit was a hat, as no matter how many times they put his hat on he would always pull it off! Beth soon discovered that if the hat had a tractor on it, it was a winner, and the trouble she has now is trying to get him to take it off. The range has come a long way from the original tractor hat, and is now a passionate little business that Beth continues to run alongside their family farm.

So, keep your tots warm and cosy this winter with these beautiful farm themed knitted hats. Each hat is hand crafted and features a gorgeous farm theme repeat pattern, a coloured trim and pom pom. They are proud to be made in Britain using British wool whilst backing British farmers.

The Lavender Pamper Hamper by Castle Farm

The Lavender Pamper Hamper by Castle Farm, Kent, £66, castlefarmkent.co.uk 

Castle Farm is a family run farm in North Kent. In the summer months, their lavender fields burst into colour across the Kent landscape and they harvest and extract pure lavender oil. How about an indulgent lavender gift set to help relax and unwind with? It’s filled with four of their best-selling lavender toiletries, made using their high-grade Kentish Lavender Oil, with two of their excellent Lavender Foods shortbread biscuits and lavender chocolates, plus a decorative and sweet smelling embroidered lavender bag.

Jekka’s Herb Calendar 2023 by Jekka’s, Bristol

Jekka’s Herb Calendar 2023 by Jekka’s, Bristol, £12.99, jekkas.com

Jekka’s Herb Calendar 2023 is a celebration of herbs throughout the year. It is full of beautiful pictures taken by Jekka at Jekka’s Herb Farm and Jekka’s Herbetum of culinary and medicinal herbs. This Jekka’s Herb Calendar is themed around both your herb garden and Jekka’s Herb Garden that is being created at her Herb Farm, in South Gloucestershire.

In each month, they highlight a herb, provide Jekka’s top tips and give you some handy advice on what to do to ensure your herbs always look their best and bring both colour to your garden and flavour to your kitchen. Throughout Jekka’s Herb Calendar, you can also simply scan the QR codes to be taken to the relevant page on their website for more information. This is a very special insight and a thorough journey on herbs throughout the year. 

Lee Maycock, chef at Tewinbury Cookery School

Tewinbury Cookery School Gift Vouchers, tewinbury.co.uk

Nestled in the Hertfordshire countryside, this beautiful 700 acre farmland estate has several lakes, woods, country walks, rural woodland cabins and several shepherds huts, making it an idyllic location for a brand new cookery school, set on the banks of the River Mimram. 

Lee Maycock, a renowned British chef, delivers a diverse range of courses covering everything from foraging to charcuterie. Suitable for all ages and abilities, including a junior chefs academy, through to professional chefs wanting to develop their depth of knowledge in their craft training workshops, this cookery school is ingredient led and showcases some real home grown food from their mindful organic kitchen garden and from their heritage breeds on the farm.

Fuller's Hill Cottage

Fuller’s Hill Cottages, from £150 per night, minimum two night stay, fullershillcottages.co.uk 

Fuller’s Hill Cottages are seven beautiful, luxury self-catering cottages on a family run farm and private airfield in South Cambridgeshire. Converted from old disused farm buildings, they have the Green Tourism Gold Award which proves their commitment and devotion to eco-friendly tourism. 

You can download their bespoke books from their website that contain lots of brilliant ideas, contacts and discounts to help make your stay extra memorable and special for all the right reasons. This is certainly the gift that keeps on giving.

Featured Image: Getty Images