Ben Brown’s Farm – The Isle of Wight

A E Brown Farms are based on the Isle of Wight producing high quality asparagus, sweetcorn, and wide range of vegetables. They are one of the best known Isle of Wight producers and over the Easter break, we went over to visit Ben and his asparagus fields.

Asparagus is one of the most sought after vegetables. Its subtle flavour offers a real treat during the short time it is in season.

Ben's Farm on the Island

Ben’s Farm on the Island

On the tour Ben took us inside a large Farm Building where the asparagus is taken once picked. This is where the sorting machine is, last year this machine processed 70 tonnes of asparagus (250g bunches = 280,000 bunches), an enormous amount of asparagus considering the asparagus season is only 10 weeks long!

This is the machine that trims and grades the asparagus

This is the machine that trims and grades the asparagus

This machine takes the freshly picked asparagus in one end, cleans and cuts it ready for optical sorting, meaning it passes through many cameras inside the machine which is constantly scanning the asparagus for diameter, length, curvature, head shape, and colour. During this sorting process, the asparagus spears are rotated so that 100% of their surface area is photographed. An incredible piece of kit that can process the asparagus from field to packing and fogging (a system that stops the asparagus dehydrating during transport to allow it to remain as fresh as possible) in 45 minutes.

The asparagus beds

The asparagus beds

Ben then takes us to the asparagus beds. These beds are as far as the eye can see, but when we arrived this is all we saw, bear in mind that this was Easter and they will start picking 2 weeks after this!

When planted, the crown will be about the size of a jam jar lid, this will then stay in the ground sending up fresh tasty and edible shoots for approximately 12 – 15 years. Eventually, the crown will become the size of a dustbin lid. Each crown can produce up to 70 shoots during the season.

Asparagus grown by the Brown family, was served as part of the lavish Jubilee banquet attended by Her Royal Highness the Queen and 700 guests at Westminster Hall and was served as part of the banquet for the celebration of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.  

Once the short asparagus season it’s over to the Sweetcorn production.  At this time, the fields are covered in plastic to protect the young plants from any remaining frost that might still be lingering. Once they are sure the frost is over, the plastic will be replaced with fleece.

This tasty crop will be ready to harvest on the 22nd – 25th July, 2 artic lorries a day will leave this farm ready for delivery to the mainland.

These crops are hand-picked by only 8 workers, that’s a lot of corn.

After the corn is finished the farm moves onto Squash and small pumpkins and after that they go into a steady harvest of cauliflowers.  This farm is constantly on the go.

Ben showing us his fields of asparagus, or, where the asparagus will be in a couple of weeks time.

Ben showing us his fields of asparagus, or, where the asparagus will be in a couple of weeks time.

Interesting facts:

  • The asparagus season traditionally runs from St George’s Day to the Summer Solstice.
  • Asparagus contains A, B and C vitamins, fibre and folic acid, and is virtually fat-free. These nutrients can boost your immune system, maintain healthy skin, nails and hair, and are good for the heart.

The Tomato Stall – Easter Visit to the Isle of Wight

Way back in 2007 when The Tomato Stall began making the commute to London to sell their produce it was market based and the reception they received was almost overwhelming. 

Product Range

Product Range

Encouraged by the fantastic feedback they received they began experimenting and now have an award winning unique tomato inspired artisanal range of products. Driven by a clear passion for all things tomato they have grown quite significantly over the years and now supply a range of farm shops, delis, bars, renowned restaurants and US!

Just before the Easter weekend got into full swing we went over to the Isle of Wight to visit The Tomato Stall.

It was incredibly accommodating of Joni Rhodes and Daniella Tarrant to take time out of their obviously very busy day to show us all around.

We start in the office where Daniella, seen here, is very proud to show us the entire range of their products, we stock quite of few of these now.

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Daniella tells us that in the beginning the original design of labels were applied by hand, but like everything it evolves and grows into what you get today.

Their business might have grown and expanded but they still remember their humble beginnings, and the markets are still very much a part of life for the Tomato Stall, and as we are taken on the tour, we go through a warehouse that is buzzing with activity of getting the produce ready for the Easter Markets. Face to face contact at the market gives them direct feedback straight from the customer, another positive way to help them grow and evolve.

As we wander round the warehouse and the hubbub, we are given little tasters (gotta love this job) and the sweetness that comes from a freshly picked tomato, there really is nothing like it. Daniella then tells us that from the fruit being picked to it being at the market or with the customer it can be as little as 24hrs.  It is no surprise then that three of their tomato varieties have Great Taste Awards, the Piccolo Vine has a 2 gold star Great Taste Award while the Golden Mini Plum and Red Mini Plum have the 1 gold star Great Taste Award.

Sunshine taste explosions

Sunshine taste explosions

The tomato variety – Angelle is so sweet that when tested in a laboratory it registered the same sugar level as a strawberry!

This is where Joni Rhodes takes over with the tour, these girls are totally passionate about what they do and it shows.

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We are driven round to another site to visit the greenhouses, these are not like our little potting shed style greenhouses we have the back garden, these are the grand-daddy of all greenhouses.  They are all different, pitched roof/staggered pitch, another factor helping these plants produce the best possible product. The difference in the shapes and sizes of the roofs is all about the different density of light it allows the plants to receive, also as the months move on and we go into the brighter/hotter summer months, the greenhouse windows may get covered, to protect the plant from the scorching heat or funnel the light/heat directly to the late season plants for maximum growth. As the science behind growing the plants evolves so do the houses that help them grow.

This is where the fancy dress portion of the tour kicks in.  Because we are going into a clean environment, we have to be extra careful not to take any bugs or insects into the warehouse that could infect the crops so … here we are, all catwalk ready.

Catwalk Ready for the Greenhouses

Catwalk Ready for the Greenhouses

The plants in this warehouse have been in since December/January, the main planting time for all the tomatoes here, the first picks came in February, with the main availability starting in the last couple of weeks and they will continue to pick until November. During the winter months the same seeds are grown in their Spanish and Portuguese nurseries, the taste is still exceptional and providing a very long season.

As you can just make out from the image (by the numbers), the plants are tied onto bobbins which once a week, get tightened and hoist the plant up to allow continual fruit bearing with new flowers forming at the head of the plant and fruit ripening towards the base. The fruit bearing part of the plant will not go much higher than 6ft, but the plant height will be 15m or over by the end of the season as the stem keeps on growing.

blog 5Every week a maintenance team go through and cut or pick the fruit. All varieties are regularly tasted by the taste panel, who are all looking for consistency, sweetness and texture.  This information is then fed back into the tomatoes they are trailing.

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This year they set up a time lapse camera overhead of the plants, this showed up some amazing footage of the plants appearing to dance, rising and falling a number of times during the day!

The pollination of all their plants is done by the humble bumblebees. They are housed in small bee boxes that hold a queen and her workers. This may sound strange but they are free to come and go as they please.

 

Busy Bees

Busy Bees

There are vaults at the top of the greenhouses that open and shut according to the temperature and they often find the bees have gone out to the wild flowers that surround the facilities. Not all return, obviously, and they have to replenish the bees during the growing year. Their nursery has Conservation Grade status, meaning that they are ethical, sustainable and Fair to Nature. 10% of their land is given back to natural habitats including wild flower meadows, barn owl boxes and red squirrel houses.

Not all the tomato plants are organic but the principals of organic growing are maintained across the whole nursery. The organic plants are grown in soil beds on the floor in a natural compost and non-organic are grown in coconut husks.  The Tomato Stall have been producing their own nutrient rich compost for the last 6 years from the plants themselves.  During the growing year, when the plant is cut, thinned out or finished, it is kept to dry on the floor. Then at the end of the year when they totally strip down the nursery for cleaning, the plant waste is gathered up and composted producing their own high heat compost.

The plant is left on the floor not only to dry out but, during the growing season even these nurseries will suffer from plant pest but, as they embrace organic principles they utilise biological control across the nursery. Here they use natural predators and vials of bug eating bugs are released into the nurseries to deal with this.  The plant waste within the nursery provides additional environment for this mico-cosmic ecosystem.

The Greenhouses are kept at an optimum temperature for the plants, when required, by rails all over the floor. Heated water passes into the glass houses from their compost facility.

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At the end of the growing year, the entire nursery is stripped down and washed. Their entire growing system is completely biodegradable, from the coconut husk that the plants are grown in to the string that supports the plants. Even the plastic flooring is recycled into bin bags at the end of the season!

Almost Ready

Almost Ready

If time-lapse videos simply aren’t enough, how about the chance to come and see first-hand what goes on behind the scenes at Tomato HQ? This year they are delighted to be taking part in Open Farm Sunday, and on the 7th June will be opening up sections of the nursery to the public. It’s the 10th anniversary of the event, which is organised by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and they are very excited to be joining in the fun.

For more information visit their website or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

 

What’s In Season for March

The evenings are getting lighter, the days are becoming warmer and everyone can feel that Spring is right around the corner, even the birds know it, their morning song starts way before my alarm now!!!

Sure sign of Spring

Sure sign of Spring

Even the fruit and vegetables are starting to become spring like.  Right now the veg at its best is:

Cauliflower, Celeriac, Cabbages, Leeks, Parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli, spring onions, swede and young carrots.

Our purple sprouting broccoli and white sprouting broccoli are looking very fine. The white sprouting broccoli should be marked “fragile – handle with care”. With its tiny heads held within the tight curls of its protective leaves, this variety needs to be in the pot for even less time.

What about the Meat well…Think of Spring and Lamb comes to mind. Lamb recipes are full of the taste of spring and below are some cracking recipes created just for us, using our Free Range Meat.

A Simple Stew of Lamb – “I love the simple things in life. They always please, no matter what” – Marie Rayner

Navarin of Lamb – “The recipe was influenced by two other recipes, the memory of how a Colman’s casserole mix used to taste, plus what was already in the ingredients cupboard! So simple to make – the recipe works beautifully as the payoff in flavour is wonderful provided you cook it low and slow.” Jenny Davies

Lamb Koftas – This recipe is suitable for the AIP (autoimmune protocol diet), paleo, primal and elimination and clean eating diets. There are no grains, no dairy, no gluten – just a big plate of nutritious loveliness. – Jo Romero

Spring Lamb Salad  – A great treat for Lamb Lovers – Melanie Edjourian

Eat The Seasons!

 

Do you know where your meat comes from?

 

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Can you decode the jargon used to distinguish different types of meat and its origins? Indoor Bred, Outdoor Bred, Outdoor Reared and Free Range – all clear if you understand the meaning behind the label, misleading if you don’t.

Indoor Bred – (All pigs stay indoors) The pigs live their entire life indoors, commonly on hard solid floors with straw or similar material for bedding.  A pigs’ natural instinct is to forage – get its snout in the mud and forage for food, the indoor bred pig will never get to do this. Sows may still give birth in farrowing crates – this restricts the sows’ movements and the piglets only have access to her to feed. There is no access to the outdoors, although they get to move around freely within a pen, they are kept in small groups so there is less likelihood that there will be conflict or tail biting,caused by boredom.  Pigs are social creatures, their social behaviour is highly developed, new born piglets begin to form social dominance relationships with littermates within hours of being born!

Outdoor Bred – (Breeding herd outside free range but pigs reared for meat inside). The breeding females or sows are kept free range in paddocks, outdoors, with huts for shelter and straw for bedding. Around 4 weeks after the sow gives birth the piglets will be weaned, being taken away from her and moved indoors and fattened in extensive and intensive conditions. In this system the sow will have the higher quality of life and is able to act naturally – nesting, rooting, wallowing and foraging. The piglets only get this quality until they are weaned.

Outdoor Reared – (Breeding herd outside free range with pigs reared for meat outside but unable to roam freely). The sow, again, gets to live her life outdoors naturally and the piglets are weaned at the same time. They are reared in pens outside but unable to roam as in a free range system.

Free range: Breeding herd and pigs reared for meat outside free range

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Free Range – Whilst there is no legal definition of ‘Free Range Pork’ a voluntary industry code in the UK requires that free range pigs have permanent access to pasture, they are born outside (without stalls or crates) and are then reared outside throughout their lives. On the best free range pig farms, the sows and the growing pigs are kept outside for their entire lives.

Blog 9All Farmer’s Choice meat is FREE RANGE and our pigs are no exception. On a bitterly cold morning at the end of January we went to see Richard and Aimee on their free range pig farm in West Sussex. Their farm sits in the South Downs and enjoys a real countryside vista. Richard and Aimee have been raising free range pigs for over 12 years, producing first class pork from traditional breeds and are proud to be one of a few free range pig farmers in the South of the UK.

The breed raised on the farm is The Duroc. Their thick winter coat and hard skin allows them to survive the cold and wet of the British winter. This coat then moults in summer to leave the pig looking almost bald but able to cope with hot dry summers. Its tenacity in looking after its young combined with its docility between times makes it an ideal candidate for an outdoor pig producing succulent pork.

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On the tour of the farm, we are shown several distinctly different areas.  One houses the gilts (a young female pig that has not yet bred/first time mum), sows waiting to be mated again, pregnant sows and the boars. They are in fields that look like a semi-circular sundials with a hut in the middle, a pivot point. That way Richard can bring the boar down to the pivot point and place him in whichever section he wants (to mate) without too much stress to the boar.

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The pregnant sow has a particularly precise gestation period of 114 to115 days (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days) and when she is ready to have her piglets she is moved into the maternity of “farrowing” area which has the individual huts for her and her piglets, she is given lots of straw but even in the middle of our cold winters, inside the hut is toasty warm. For the summer Richard paints the huts white to reflect the sun so they don’t bake inside (4º difference, which might not sound a lot but very important to a pig).

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Richard has the breeding set up so the Sows give birth 3 weeks apart, in one area are the new mums, then the next one is filled with piglets running around, following mum, rooting around in the mud, learning to use the wiggle feeders.

Richard will only breed the sows for 6 litters. He tells us that after the 6th litre the sow tends to become clumsy even laying on the piglets, eating too much of the food – not letting the piglets get enough.

family hello

In another field are the adolescent pigs, they have so much space to wallow, run eat, drink etc. Pigs do tend to carve up the ground wallowing and foraging so they are constantly moved round to ensure that they always get the best of everything. This lot are due to be moved to the green pasture in the background in April.  Here they will live out their lives, naturally growing fat. The large tent in the middle is where the pigs are weighed.

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Richard and Aimee wanted a completely stress free life for the pigs and here on this farm is exactly what that is.  Even down to their final days the pigs are kept in their field, just moved down to the transport vehicle hours before they leave the farm.

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Britain is only about 25% self-sufficient in bacon and 70% in pork, meaning it imports large quantities of pig meat, which farmers in the UK complain comes from animals generally raised in worse and more intensive indoor conditions, including in much of the EU. But the RSPCA’s Julia Wrathall said even in this country “a significant number” of the 9 million animals reared for meat each year “are living out their lives in unacceptable conditions”. – (extract taken from theguardian.com/ethicalfood-animalwelfare)

 

 

Waste Not, Want Not!

Do you ever find yourself with lots of leftover Sunday roast.  Don’t just leave it in the fridge to eventually be thrown away on bin day, below are a couple of recipes to use it up and turn it into lunch box treats or just treats!

Crunchy Lamb Spring Rolls and Lamb and Potato Pasties

leftover lamb suggestions

leftover lamb suggestions

Crunchy Lamb Spring Rolls(makes 9 large or 12 small)

Ingredients:
1 tbsp peanut oil
8 good sized spring onions, chopped diagonally and including as much of the green as is possibleLamb Spring Rolls
Half a Hispi or Pointed sweet cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, peeled and julienned finely
2 big handfuls of beansprouts
1 tsp Chinese five spice
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
300g cooked, roasted lamb, shredded
200g filo pastry sheets
2 tbsp olive oil.

Method:
1. Prepare the vegetables prior to needing them and heat the peanut oil in a wok until really hot.
2. Stir fry the vegetables, keep turning them to prevent from browning in any way, until the carrots are just tender.
3. Tip the veggies into a heat proof bowl and set aside to cool a little.
4. Chop and shred the lamb.
5. Add the five spice, pepper and lamb to the veggies and stir to combine.
6. Cut the pastry pieces to size.
7. Brush a little oil onto the edges of the top half of the first sheet.
8. Place a spoonful (or more if you are making larger rolls) of the filling onto the lower half of the pastry sheet.
9. Gently start to roll the filling into the pastry, keeping the pastry as tight as possible without splitting it. Roll up to the oiled section, then fold in the edges to seal the filling into the tube.
10. Continue to roll until the pastry sheet is taken up. The oil should help the last bit to stick.
11. Gently place onto a baking sheet and continue with the next pastry sheet.
12. Once all are rolled, place into a pre-heated oven at 180ºC/340ºF/Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until the rolls are golden and crispy.

Lamb & Potato Pasties – (serves 3)

Ingredients:
340g shortcrust pastryLamb and Potato Pastie
1 egg yolk
1 large potato, diced small
1.5 tsp Essential Cuisine lamb stock powder or a low salt lamb stock cube
1.5 tbsp (or thereabouts) Bisto Best lamb gravy granules
250g roasted lamb shoulder, diced
2 tbsp petits pois
half a tsp mint sauce

Method:
1. Using just enough water to cover the potatoes in a medium sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add the stock powder.
2. Stir the stock until dissolved, then add the potato and simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the dice are just tender.
3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potato to a bowl and reserve to cool. Retain around a quarter of the stock and add just enough gravy grains to thicken it. Set it aside to cool.
4. Dice the lamb and place into a bowl with the cooled potato, two spoonfuls of the gravy, the petits pois and mint sauce. Stir gently to combine.
5. Roll out the pastry and cut out three 8″ circles.
6. Using the egg yolk, paint a little onto the edge of one half of each pastry circle.
7. Divide the filling between the three pastry circles, placing it on the un-egged side of the pastry.
8. Fold the egged side of the pastry over to encase the filling and press down lightly to seal.
9. Follow around the edge of the pastry with a decorative pattern, pressed in to fix the pastry properly, and cut a hole into the top to let the steam out.
10. Place onto a baking tray and give the pasties a good covering of egg wash.
11. Bake at 190degC/375degF/Gas5 for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp.

As a lunchtime snack or evening meal…don’t let the leftovers go to waste.

Recipes from @JennyEatwell

Apprentice of the Month – Barry Lipscombe

Another Farmer’s Choice apprentice has been given an award by MEAT Ipswich Ltd.

Apprentice of the Month

Apprentice of the Month

 

Barry won Apprentice of the Month in November 2014, but we have only just persuaded him to come and have his picture taken.

Barry, our youngest butcher, requested to take part in a year long course (FDQ Level 2) with MEAT Ipswich LTD to further his skills. Barry started his career as a carpenter (seven years), before joining Farmer’s Choice, so he is used to working with his hands and handling tools but I think we can all agree that the materials wildly differ.

The course is completed on site without the need for a day release.  Barry had to make his way through several work books, the more established butchers at Farmer’s Choice mentored him and an assessor came out 5 times during the year to see how he was getting on and put his newly learned skills to the test with practical exams.

Barry had to produce sausages from start to finish and as the course progressed he was given the tasks to break down whole lamb carcasses and a whole pig carcass.

The course also teaches the apprentices to look after their tools and he had to be able to show he could do that with knife sharpening skills, using the wet stone or the grinder which we have in situ.

Barry also had to show that he could easily manage the control of stock and of course his knowledge on Health and Safety.

We at Farmer’s Choice would like to congratulate Barry for achieving his qualification and receiving this award.  Great Work Barry!

MEAT (Ipswich) Ltd Award

MEAT (Ipswich) Ltd Award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Sawyer (another Farmer’s Choice Butcher) received Learner of the Month award, back in September 2010 before going on to receiving Apprentice of the Year 2011.

February – What’s in Season?

It may be white and cold outside but fresh in from the veg patch is nothing but colour.  This months’ fresh produce is just full of yellows, oranges, purples and reds, it’s enough to will the sunshine back!

Season Citrus Fruit from Outside the UK

Seasonal Citrus Fruit from Outside the UK

The list of what’s good right now, from Farmer’s Choice, is surprisingly long:

Vegetables

Bananas*, Blood Oranges*, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage (red, white, green and Savoy), Cavolo Nero and Curly Kale, Celeriac, Chicory, Leeks, Lemons*, Limes*, Onions, Oranges*, Parsnips, Pineapple*, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Satsumas, Spring Greens, Swede

*In Season but not grown in the UK

Colourful Seasonal Veggies grown in the UK

Colourful Seasonal Fruit and Vegetables

Fish and Game:

Crab, Haddock, Hake, Mackerel, Scallops, Rabbit, Turkey and Venison

How about some Simply cooked Hake with garlic butter on a bed of steamed curly kale or …Braised Venison with a warming Chilli and Chocolate Sauce…this can be eaten as a stew (just add potatoes or parsnips) or as a luxurious healthy cottage pie, top with mashed sweet potato.

Seasonal Braised Venison

Braised Venison

Lovely Low Fat, Low Calorie, Easy recipe that is full of flavour and good for you!

Take a look through our pages and enjoy eating the seasons.