I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Rachel Knowles from Trenchmore Farm. The sustainable farm in West Sussex produces Sussex x Wagyu beef, Silly Moo Sussex cider and Trenchmore Heritage wheat flour and berries direct to chefs and the public.
Tell us a bit about the Trenchmore brand.
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.
It is really hard for farms to make a living and so often they have to rely on subsidies. 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.
What is your official role in the company?
My role is 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. I do deliveries of the beef sometimes also as we are currently supplying some amazing restaurants in Brighton and a few in London. I also do accounts, cider-making, cider packaging and social media and events!
You sell your beef into a lot of restaurants in Brighton but where is your personal favourite to dine at?
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. The Shepherd and Dog is fantastic and also Drakes. One of the best restaurants we supply 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.
Why is sustainable beef so important?
Mainly because you are dealing with a sentient being. We love animals and you have to have respect for them. I’m not a vegetarian, I do eat meat but not very 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. 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. We add sweet apple juice sourced during our Apple Swap from local orchards and gardens. That’s another thing that makes it delicious.
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 halfway 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.
What would you say as Farmers is the biggest challenge in today’s’ 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. 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 be nutritious but that doesn’t come cheap. So our biggest challenge is that 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.
How does your previous London career compare to your family business role now?
I love being in the countryside and working with my family. What is fantastic about working with family is that we expect more of each other, so we push each other. 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 generally work really well together and deal with problems together which is lovely.