Decades ago the stereotypical image of the farmer’s wife was of a routine of meal making, tending to poultry and pigs, milking cows, baking bread, cooking, washing, ironing and the rest. A good deal has changed in both agriculture and the roles played by both men and women since then.
A need to provide extra income to support the main farming operation and improve standards of living has driven alternative enterprises such as farm shops, holiday accommodation, cafés, tearooms, childrens’ play parks and a host of other businesses.
For some women on farms these ventures have provided an opportunity to take centre stage as earners like never before and a summit in Harrogate next month aims to bring many of them together.
The Yorkshire Rural Support Network hosts its third Women in Farming conference at The Pavilions of Harrogate on the Great Yorkshire Showground on October 11. This year’s theme is ‘teamwork’ and one of the guest speakers will be Cheryl Garthwaite of award-winning Blacker Hall Farm Shop in Wakefield, where she works alongside husband Edward.
Cheryl is quick to point out the role that others have played in the success of the family’s farm and farm shop.
“Edward’s parents John and Anne were the foundation of the ethos and ethics of what we do here. Together they defined what Blacker Hall Farm Shop has become. Edward’s sister Mary (Burgess) and husband Matthew run the farm and Mary knows everything about the farming side of the business. My role is wholly with the farm shop.”
Cheryl was born in the Moray area of Scotland where her father is a butcher in the small town of Forres.
“I was brought up with the meat business and became very interested in food and particularly developing new products. I’ve been involved with the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association and recall discussions over defining standards for Scottish beef, lamb and pork.
“I was absolutely flattened by the attitude of some farmers who were wholly focussed on what they were getting for their lamb and that standards didn’t seem to resonate with them.
“I came to Blacker Hall as an employee to help expand the business from the butchery side that Edward had started. When I met Edward, his dad John and the rest of the family I was so taken with their farming ethic and attitude. They believed what I believed. I’ve always been married to meat.
“The farm and farm shop are two separate companies but work very closely.
“The 180-strong suckler cow herd produces 70 per cent of our beef needs and we are 100 per cent self-sufficient in our pork needs through stock reared on from eight to 10 weeks after having been bred by Richard Lister and family.
“Mary and Matthew farm around 350 acres near to the farm shop and other land elsewhere. They grow wheat, barley, maize and peas. In recent times they have also started growing vegetables including broccoli, potatoes and sprouts.”
Blacker Hall Farm Shop has grown hugely since it started 17 years ago. Cheryl tells of how the learning curve never stops.
“We won an award last week from the Guild of Fine Food Retailers as their Great Taste Shop of the Year 2016 but we know that doesn’t mean we have everything perfect by any means.
“The shop was underway 11 years before we started with the café six years ago. We’re still working on the shop, refining it, bringing on staff. When we started the café we knew nothing at all about hospitality. It was a massive challenge to get the fresh food we serve in the shop to reach the quality and standard we were also looking for in the café.
“That’s where teamwork comes in. The team we have and want to develop is the most interesting and exciting part of my role.
“We have a team of full-time and part-time people that runs to around 150 and we’re open seven days a week so you can imagine the pressures and responsibility that brings, but looking after the people who work with you and seeing them develop both in the business here at Blacker Hall or go on to do well elsewhere is such a buzz for me. Our business is all about connecting with people.”