Making the most of what they have is where Jim Stephenson sees expansion in the family farming enterprise based at Manor Farm in Goodmanham and at Arras Hill near Market Weighton.
It’s a theory that he, wife Lucie and his parents Paul and Liz continue to put into practice by adding new ventures to land already owned, rather than taking on further acreage.
Lucie opened up the latest of them, The Fiddle Drill Tearoom, just eight weeks ago. Jim says their approach is partly induced by the ever-increasing cost of land.
“We’ve decided to use the assets we have. We can’t simply go out and buy land at £16,000 an acre. That’s just ridiculous. We currently have 675 acres that is good, free draining Wolds crop growing land of medium loam with plenty of chalk and flint, but we’ve developed several other strands since 1982 when my parents came here including bulk grain haulage, grain storage, holiday accommodation, a camping site and now the tearoom.”
The Fiddle Drill is Lucie’s first major contribution to the farm since the couple married two years ago. She’s more used to being in the saddle than ‘on the fiddle’, but she’s both surprised and happy that the tearoom is already becoming a well-visited establishment. It is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. She feels her background, working as a product manager for Haribo and as a marketing manager for Costcutter, will bring to bear on the tearoom’s success. She’s already learned lessons about her new world.
“It turns out running a tearoom is very different to what you put down on paper at the start,” says Lucie. “The practicalities of working out what people want, when they want it, being busy when you expect to be quiet and vice versa has been quite a learning curve already. Where we have been very fortunate is in having a building that lends itself to the business so perfectly. Its location is ideal being by the roadside and we’re on the official Wolds Way cycle and walking route.
“The name came about when we found a fiddle drill as we were tidying a barn. It is an old seed drill that had a bow and made it look like a fiddle being played. People are already getting it wrong calling it the fiddle diddle and other things but at least it has become a talking point.”
Lucie is also pursuing an eventing career with gusto and has had a successful year so far on Coniston Nadal. The times away competing could have made life tricky with the new venture but Lucie counts herself fortunate to have support from her good friend Helen Butler, whose mum was a Stephenson.
“Helen’s grandfather is Paul’s cousin and she’s been involved in a lot of high end catering and working on cruise liners. She’s also a fantastic baker and all our sweets are made on site. Our current most requested favourite is lime and polenta cake. We’ve also just started with our special afternoon teas.
“Jim, his brother Richard and sister Helen had all played in here when they were children. It was known as the Games Room back then and Jim had felt it had potential. I’m now looking at other possibilities for meetings, events and possibly as a wedding venue. We will have had our first summer under our belts soon and we have already learned so much.”
It is harvest time at Goodmanham and Arras right now. The cropping acreages include around 250-300 acres of winter wheat dependent on the rotation and Jim is growing Revelation, Dickens and Reflection. Last year’s average came in around 4.5 tonnes per acre, but isn’t expected to be repeated this year.
“We’re also growing Belepi spring wheat for the first time. Having had more potatoes last year I felt it best to leave the land for a while where they were grown and I also felt that some second wheats haven’t been worth what I’ve spent on them, so maybe trying spring wheat might help. It’s all feed wheat.
“We stopped growing winter barley about four years ago. We grow the spring malting barley variety Concerto across around 120-150 acres. Mum’s father George Simpson grew award-winning malting barley and it was he who got dad to start growing it because his land at Pockthorpe and ours is very similar.”
Other crops this year are 50 acres of oilseed rape and a continued recent return to vining peas.
“We’ve harvested the oilseed rape and it has come in at around 1.8 tonnes an acre, down a bit on last year. We’re back into vining peas for Bird’s Eye. It fulfils the greening side of the farm payment. The other crop grown on the farm is potatoes. Our neighbour Andrew Manfield grows them.”
It wasn’t long after Paul and Liz took up the running of Manor Farm on their own in 1982, after being part of a family partnership that involved three cousins, that their first additional strand of new business was added to their mix.
Paul, whose career included working for motor engineers Richardsons in Driffield, was already hauling the rest of the family’s grain. He and Liz extended the business from one lorry and today they have four grain artics on the road hauling for farmers and merchants in the East Riding.
Barn conversions six years ago brought about Manor Farm Cottages that see The Stables sleeping six and The Cottage sleeping four.
“Well over half of the bookings are now repeats and most of the rest come on recommendations. The Wolds has become a really popular area for walkers and cyclists and that has also led us to starting up a Wolds Way camping site just 150 yards up the road from Manor Farm.”
Jim and Lucie met through Driffield Rugby Club where Jim played and was captain of the first team for a season. Lucie’s maiden name is Cawood and her parents farm at Givendale near Pocklington.
Jim has now switched from rugby to rallying. His father Paul has returned to his mechanical background in restoring a 1978 Talbot Sunbeam that Jim has raced in three rallies so far mainly in the North West of England and Dumfries.