The Colfox family has been associated with Symondsbury since the 13th century. Current custodians Sir Philip and Lady Julia are heavily involved in developing the Estate and the growing businesses.
One area of the Estates continued evolution is to develop its own produce to be used on-site in the café and available through Symondsbury Store. Cutting down food miles and encouraging sustainable farming methods is key to the project. To fulfill their dream, they have recruited two extremely well qualified people for this purpose.
First to arrive was Marie Clements as their Agricultural Product Developer, managing products ranging from red onion chutney to reintroducing rare breeds back to the Estate.
Marie has a lifelong experience of managing livestock from growing up on the family farm in the West Country and has a degree in business. To assist Marie, Roly Boughton joined the team in March 2019 moving from River Cottage where he was assistant farm manager.
The productive market garden is just across the country lane from the café and supplies fresh vegetables and fruit to it through the year. Marie jokes, “We don’t talk in food miles but metres.” Head gardener, Mel Webb, operates a ‘no dig’ method of vegetable gardening. This means there is minimal soil disturbance. Mulch (manure/compost) is added and nature takes care of incorporating it into the soil and helps to suppress weed growth.
This year they have added a further one-acre plot to increase the growing area and productivity of the Estate. The new plot is currently packed with potatoes, beetroot, carrots and onions. The next few weeks will see pumpkins being planted with the help of the children from the village school. Roly commented, “It’s great to involve the school in the project to encourage future generations about food production is a really important message.”
Alongside the vegetable production, the team has introduced traditional rare breeds of livestock, which can be viewed on the Estate, such as Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. The most recent edition is a flock of Dorset Horn Sheep. The breed was strongly associated with the Estate until the 60’s, so it’s exciting to see these reintroduced into the landscape. The next breed on the wishlist is Short Horn Cattle, which were also a traditional breed kept on the Estate – so watch this space. All these breeds have been carefully selected to link in historically but also into sustainable farming methods, even the orchards that produce their unique Apple Juice are used to graze sheep and even feed pigs.
Every angle ties in with each other here, the range of jams and preserves used in the cream teas in the Café or the grazing of livestock as orchard and woodland management. It’s a holistic method and is certainly leading to exciting times at Symondsbury. The energy that Roly and Marie have for the project make you realise just how passionate they are about this developing project and I for one can’t wait to see the end result – it will be amazing.
Words and photos kindly supplied by our volunteer John Grindle.