Swillington Organic Farm in Yorkshire have been recognised as one of the top small agricultural businesses in Britain. The family run farm have been shortlisted for ‘Farming Partnership of the Year’ in the British Farming Awards.
The British Farming awards celebrate the creative thinking, innovation and dedication of Britain’s farmers in ever changing and challenging conditions and climates. The awards are about recognising farmers who are taking positive steps to achieving a bigger and better business thanks to the innovations they have made.
Jo Cartwright has been running Swillington Organic Farm, just outside Leeds, since 1981 and, by her own admission, had been struggling to make the farm a success ever since. The farm has been fully organic for 14 years and Jo opened one of the first organic farm shops in Yorkshire, later adding an on-farm butchery and slaughter unit to improve traceability.
She produces organic Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef, grassfed organic lamb and free-range organic poultry along with rare breed free-range pigs.
However, she says her son Ed was always the one with a head for business. “I started selling on farmers markets helped by Ed (then 12), right from the start he had a keen business sense and had good ideas on marketing.”
Following his degree and involvement in local food with deliciouslyorkshire and the Leeds University Food Society Ed started a meat box scheme, initially doing everything including packing boxes and deliveries – the team now includes a part-time delivery driver and packer leaving Ed to concentrate on developing the business.
Other initiatives include a community-supported agriculture scheme (the first to be started in Yorkshire) and Kids club, a chicken co-op, an egg club and educational visits with the focus on food production.
Jo says, she and Ed each have their own areas of expertise: “Mine is a lifetime of working with stock and growing. I am also passionate about conservation and farming and making them work together. Ed’s is spending time and effort to communicate what we do to our customers, we share our story on social media and put on Meat Ups to invite our customers to experience the story behind their food.
I do the farming and Ed does ‘the clean stuff’ which suits us both as I’m not a natural saleswoman!”
Ed is optimistic about the future of the business and sees being shortlisted for the national award as a great achievement. “We’ve won awards for the quality of the food we produce, but this is all about the business and how working together we’re growing organically and helping provide the connection between field and fork that the community want and supermarkets can never offer.
“This is a great time to be involved in local food, our business grew throughout the recession and month on month we are consecutively getting more and more subscribers for our meat boxes. This demand for our meat boxes is allowing us to continually invest and grow the business in line with the values that founded it.”
The farm’s recent agreement to graze the land on a neighbouring RSPB nature reserve means they can grow production to meet demand whilst still keeping the exacting standards and commitment to wildlife, animal welfare and quality that set them apart.
However, a major hurdle for the business is that it is on the initial route for phase two of HS2 which would destroy the farm. Ed has spent a lot of time liaising with councillors, MPs and others but ultimately it is something out of their control. Despite this, they are optimistic and Jo says she can see more of a future now, whereas before Ed’s involvement in the business she seemed to be working non-stop going nowhere.
The Partnership of the Year category was judged by industry leaders including Vickie Robinson, Deputy Editor of the Farmers Guardian, Stuart Thomson of English Food and Farming Partnerships and William Neville, Partner in Burges Salmon Law. The judges were looking for a partnership or team which is passionate about building a successful farm business.
The winner will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in October. You can find out more about the awards at www.britishfarmingawards.co.uk
Interested in visiting the farm? Register for a forthcoming meat up event here – tickets are free with any meatbox.