February 16th 2013

Down on the Farm - February 2013 at Higher Hacknell

Cattle and sheep in the snowWhat an extraordinary month as the 'horsegate' scandal keeps getting bigger with further astonishing revelations unfolding in each day's news. There couldn't be more of a reason to buy direct from the farm rather than from the supermarket with its unfathomably complicated global supply chains!We are proud of the fact that we can trace every pack of mince beef and steakburger back to an individual bullock which has been born, raised and fed entirely on and from Higher Hacknell Farm. We transport our animals to the small, local abattoir in our own trailer to keep stress to a minimum and the carcasses then come back to our farm butchery for hanging and preparation. How different from the 'burger' which could contain meat from up to a thousand different animals - which we now know are not all cattle - produced in countries worldwide, then travelling through processing factories across Europe.

In a couple of weeks we have our annual Soil Association inspection, which is a rigorous, day long check of all our paperwork and systems for traceability and the organic integrity of what we produce and process here at Higher Hacknell. It starts by checking the records of each and every animal's life cycle - how it was reared, what it has eaten, the fields it has grazed, right through to the abattoir (which must also be registered organic and inspected) and then how the meat products are processed, packaged and labelled. Each one of our recipes has to be approved by the Soil Association who check that the ingredients we use are from an authorised organic source. No system can be perfect, but the transparency and traceability of the organic certification gets pretty close.

I'm very pleased that you can relax knowing where your meat comes from, but I can't say that we are feeling smug about it! The recession has taken it's toll and organic farming has received a lot of knocks lately, even from the Food Standards Agency itself! The economic pressures of such a rigourous and strict farming system has meant that many farmers who converted to organic farming methods a few years ago have now changed back to farming conventionally. We very much believe, with over 25 years of being organic, that it is the best and most authentic way to farm and are not going to give up. However it has not been easy and last year I sadly stopped going to the weekly farmers' market in Exeter. It was not a decision I wanted to make as the market was very much part of my life and I had come to see the customers as my friends. But as people have been forced to cut back on their spending and would come less regularly to shop, I had to realise that I was losing money and it couldn't go on.

Organic lasagneWhen we started farming in 1985, we held the belief, maybe naively, that 'small is beautiful' as Eric Shumacher said in his book. But I think we were right - when things get too big - whether they are supply chains or banks, they get beyond our control. Our farm is not huge, we don't keep thousands of animals and by having the butchery here on the farm everything that is produced here is fully traceable. But this isn't the way to produce cheap food, and when people are faced with two products, seemingly the same, it's hard to choose the more expensive one. When I see the price of a supermarket ready made lasagne or burger, I know that it is below the cost of production in my book. Our ready made meals do cost a little more but they take time to make, using home made stocks, local organic vegetables and genuine meat! As someone said on the radio the other day - 'the cost of cheap food is that we don't know what we are eating.' I just hope that will now change!Sorry for this long rant, but we feel passionately about this!! Please keep your orders coming in and remember we can deliver every Thursday or Friday if we receive your order by Sunday, either on the website www.higherhacknell.co.uk or on the phone 01769 560909. We are also taking orders now for Easter, only a few weeks away. If you have any questions or concerns please call me anytime, and there is further information on our blog 'The Hacknell Chronicles'.

We are hoping for drier weather so Tim can get on with farm work but hey, pigs might fly! I'll keep off the horse jokes, I think we've had enough of those.

With best wishes

Jo, Tim and all at Higher Hacknell Farm