For more than 35 years Whirlow Hall Farm has been on a mission to demonstrate a model of sustainable agriculture.
Now the charity trust has furthered the ambition by opening anon-site butchery, where meat from sheep, cows and pigs reared in the fields is prepared for sale in the shop and café.
A new farm manager, Ben Rhodes, whose family tended cows and sheep throughout his upbringing three miles from Whirlow, has been taken on, while the new facility is led by Scott Storey and Richard Summers. Scott is a local butcher with years of experience, and Richard Summers is a consultant butcher who also teaches at the Welbeck Artisan School of Food.
The farm’s head chef Jo Housley has been given an ‘open kitchen’ so customers can see their meals being produced.
Ben Davies, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Now that we have our own butchery, we control every step of the journey from field to fork, and I don’t think there are many places locally that can lay claim to that.”
The project was part of a ‘much broader wish’ to improve the facilities in the farm’s Bottom Yard, he said.
“We’ve had a café for a long time, but the kitchen being across the yard from the diners meant there was a bit of a disconnect between the two. We also wanted to reduce our food miles to a minimum.
“So when we were given an extremely generous donation by someone whose family has very fond memories of time spent at Whirlow Hall Farm, we knew exactly what to do.
“We decided to move the kitchen across the yard, open a butchery in its place, reconfigure the shop and expand the café. And while we were at it, we thought we should have a look at how the farm was operating.”
Animals are still slaughtered at an abattoir, Elliot’s in Chesterfield, before the carcasses are brought back to Whirlow. “In spring I went to have a look at the operation there. I came away really impressed with how quiet, calm and efficient the process was from start to finish.”
The old kitchen has been refitted and converted into the butchery, next to the shop. The café seating area has been expanded into the stable next door, meaning 60 visitors can now be accommodated.
“The response from customers has been terrific,” said Ben. “They love the new set-up and, more importantly, the meat they’ve bought.”