I recently got to sit down and have an enlightening chat with Rachel from Trenchmore. This is a sustainable farm in West Sussex. Selling Sussex x Wagyu beef, Silly Moo Sussex cider and Trenchmore Heritage wheat flour and berries direct to chefs and the public. So grab a cuppa and take a seat because this really is a good one..
To start with what is your official role in the Company and what does the Company do?
We are Trenchmore Farm which is a small to medium mixed farm where we grow a small amount of arable, we have cattle and we produce SillyMoo Cider. The beauty of the mixed farming system is that everything feeds into each other. So the straw that we get from the wheat is used to bed the cattle. When we press apples for the cider the cattle get to eat the by-product and in turn they fertilise the soil which is used to grow more food. So that’s what we wanted to do – try to be a sustainable farm both economically and environmentally. It is really hard for farms to make a living and so often they have to rely on subsidies and Michael Gove has great plans for those so I don’t know how long they will be around for. So our plan is to find a way to manage the farm which is not damaging to the environment or has minimal impact and can fund the people who work on it. It is a challenge but diversification is the way forward and trying to offer something more interesting. For example the way we make our Cider is quite special, our breed of cattle is also special as it is a Red Wagyu x Sussex which are gorgeous and we have won 1st prize at the Yorkshire Live Show for our Rib of Beef. We grow a heritage wheat which is quite unusual, an ancient grain which is a diverse range of different varieties and is really popular for it’s flavour. Unfortunately the yield is appalling so we are trying to improve that. When you are farming in an environmentally friendly way you can’t waste land with a crop that tastes great but gives a poor yield so you just waste time and land so there is a balance. The great thing about heritage crops is they are very low input so we don’t spray it.
My role on the farm is quite diverse but mainly focused on sales and marketing of the products that we have but as with any small business you end up doing a bit of everything so I do deliveries of the Beef every other Thursday to Heathfield to our amazing butcher Dave Rook who butchers our meat in a beautiful way we haven’t seen any other butcher do, so that’s why we go so far and he will package it up and we have a day then delivering beef to our chefs. We work with a lot of amazing restaurants in Brighton and some in London. I also do invoicing, I make the Cider and arrange the packaging of Cider, I do the Social Media and samplings.
You sell your beef into a lot of good restaurants in Brighton but what is your favourite restaurant?
Probably the Ginger Man, I went there for my birthday this year and they had our beef and they spoilt us rotten with a 7 course meal. The chef cooked it the best I have ever eaten. Shepherd and Dog are fantastic and Drakes. One of the best restaurants who we sell to is Gravetye Manor and the Michelin Starred Chef there is one of the nicest people I have met. It is so lovely that he is so successful but so lovely, in fact all our chefs are a bit like that and I think they understand us and support us as a local business.
Do you supply to any butchers at the moment?
No, we only do Chefs as we have spoken to butchers but the cost of producing the beef is too high and the margins are not there. The Chefs pay more but can then turn it into something and add value to it. We have had a lot of requests for our meat so we sell a half carcass occasionally split into what we call butchers bags which is a mix of steak, roasting joint, mince and other cuts.
Why is sustainable beef so important?
Well for a few reasons but mainly your dealing with a sentient being and we love animals and you have to have respect for them. I’m not a vegetarian, I do eat meat but not much and am very particular about the meat I eat I don’t think we have a right to just eat meat regardless of what that animal has gone through. The land we are on isn’t great for growing arable, but in reality, if we tried to be a fully arable farm it wouldn’t work and the yields would be very poor and actually having cattle is the most efficient way of turning sun and grass into food for us to eat. Having said that we do have a lot of respect for our cows and their welfare and certainly the healthiest and happiest animals are the most delicious as well and what we have learnt is that if at any time the cow is stressed out they lay down gristle so it’s not good for the cow or the meat for them to be stressed.
What makes SillyMoo Cider special?
Its very simple basically as the recipe is apple juice. The specification for cider is that you only need about 35% apple juice in your end product so what is the other 65% made from? Ours is 100% apple juice which is quite rare and we recently realised more challenging. You can make amazing ciders how they do in the West Country which is a process where you basically stop the fermentation before the sugars have been eaten by the yeast which means you preserve some sweetness because if you let it ferment to dry it’s not that palatable so really you want it fermented and then you want to add something sweet so we add sweet apple juice sourced during our Apple Swap from local orchards and gardens. That’s another thing that makes it delicious but is really hard to do because it blocks the filters and that is why people add sugar because it is easier and cheaper. So that is what makes us special. It is very fresh and appley and not too sweet but it’s not West Country style cider either. We call it an East meets West style. The East Coast being the mass produced Kent orchards, very sweet like the Nordic Ciders which I don’t like and the drier West Country Ciders. Ours is sort of a half way house between the two but with no added sugar and is a medium dry style. It is 4.8% abv so it’s not too strong and has had the yeasts filtered out rather than pasteurised which is how most people stop the fermentation which is fine but does mean you get this typical cidery stewed apple flavour. So you get this crisp, clear, clean and very palatable drink. We won a 2 Star Great Taste Award this year so are very pleased. We have just launched a mulled cider in time for Christmas which isn’t as sweet as a mulled wine which we are selling to pubs to serve hot or cold.
What would you say as Farmers is the biggest challenge in todays’ climate?
It’s quite difficult to say as I live in a “foodie bubble” and I am quite willing to pay good money for good produce because I know what it costs to produce but the biggest struggle we face is people not recognising that real food costs money and you need to be willing to pay more for it. I think people want to spend too small a proportion of their income on food but they also want the environment to be fixed and they want to eat meat with high animal welfare standards and be delicious and nutritious but that doesn’t come cheap. So that is our biggest challenge as we can’t compete with supermarkets. They are fantastic at creating convenience for shoppers but they treat their suppliers really poorly and make it difficult for farmers to make a living whilst also looking after the environment and their livestock properly which is really crucial at the moment.
You have had a career in London but what do you most enjoy about working for a family concern?
I do like being in the countryside but mostly working with my family. My Mum is mostly in charge of the bees and some samplings if I can’t do it and sells the wheat for us. I work mostly with my Dad but what is fantastic about working with family is that we expect more of each other, so we push each other a lot more, but we have this support system that I have never experienced working for people that aren’t your nearest and dearest. We do wind each other up sometimes but do work really well together and deal with problems together which is really lovely.
We were Sussex Farm of the Year 2017 which is our biggest award so far and the Beef came first in a Wagyu competition. We are a mixed farm because one area can feed another. For example, if we were purely Arable then we would need a lot more fertiliser spread on the land to get the yields whereas our cows fertilise our land and eat our apples each Autumn. We have bee hives in the Orchards which pollinate the apple trees and makes us delicious SillyMoo Apple Blossom Honey although not enough to sell on!
Our ethos is about farming for flavour and the future so we want to build a farm and show people you can farm in an environmentally way that can make money. The saying that “Farmers can’t look after the green when they are in the red” is totally true. If Farmers aren’t paid enough for the food they cannot go the extra mile to look after the land so we do charge more but we think our food deserves it.
To learn more about Trenchmore Farm, Silly Moo Cider or Heritage grains visit http://www.trenchmore.co.uk/
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