Steven Shearman is an egghead and doesn’t mind admitting it. He’s not cracking up though and makes a point of coming out of his shell when talking with the public.
He will be back delivering a yolk or two in York next weekend when the York Festival of Food and Drink takes over Parliament Street once again.
“I’m a self-confessed poultry nut and I can’t put into words properly just how much I enjoy talking to the general public about hens and eggs.
“I work seven days a week and when we have a stand at farmers’ markets or events like this to me it’s like having a day off. I get so excited about it that I’m like a kid at Christmas. It’s crazy really and fantastic fun. We’ve been attending farmers’ markets for 12 years and we will go to seven a month.”
Steven runs Church View Farm Eggs that is based on a 40-acre farm in Wakefield where he has worked all his life. It’s all he ever wanted to do and he is as passionate about it as he has always been, although there was a time when it looked like it could have been the end.
“It’s really the only job I’ve ever had. My father kept poultry and when I left school at 15 I came to work here for Robert Youde. This used to be a pig and poultry farm and at one point we had 17,000 head of poultry and 2,000 pigs, employing five people, but the market collapsed and it was no longer worth carrying on.”
When Mr Youde sold some land and was looking to retire, Steven was effectively being sold-on as part of the egg business. The decision he and his wife Julie then made was to attempt to take over the company themselves.
“I had worked here for 29 years and 11 months when it looked as though I might have had to change direction.
“That’s when we were made the best offer ever. Robert decided he didn’t want to retire fully and so we all became partners together in the business. It was a really big moment for Julie and myself and one that we shall forever be grateful to Robert.
“Having moved away from looking after my favourite feathered livestock and being involved primarily in the wholesale egg trade I was getting itchy feet. I had kept poultry all my life and I started to miss looking after stock. I honestly believe that I was put on this planet to look after animals and birds, so we started out with poultry once again.”
These days, Church View Farm Eggs packs and wholesales 120,000 eggs a week from local producers in West and North Yorkshire as well as those from their 250 free-range hens in Wakefield that they sell at the farmers’ markets and at York next weekend. It is these that turn the lights on in Steven’s eyes.
“We were offered the chance to take a stall at a farmers’ market in Leeds when it first started and Julie and I were both really impressed with the way it was run and the number of people who were interested in what we were selling.
“For 30 years all I had seen every day was pigs and hens – and eggs! I found that there were so many questions that I could answer for the people who were coming.
“It was quite a confidence boost,” he added.
“I might not know much but I do know my eggs and my hens. Once you start asking me things about poultry I sometimes don’t know when to stop.”
Steven’s new found skill of talking about his brand of farming and farm business has since seen him expand on his general public talks.
“I now take my hens into schools and give talks on the different breeds and types of egg. The children are really keen on getting to know more and it is a delight to pass on my knowledge to them.
“It’s the only thing I’ve done all my life and the only thing I know how to do.
“I’m very strict about what kind of eggs we sell. They have to be a nice shape with plenty of bloom and look just right.”
One of Church View Farm Eggs’ specialities is in producing boxes of different colour eggs. These are all natural colours from their variety of birds on the farm. They provide another major talking point for Steven.
“We have the aracana from South Africa that produces a green egg; then there’s the cream leg bar hen that lays a blue egg; the Columbian blacktail produces a brown egg; and we have just introduced leghorns into the range that produce a white egg. We won a taste award at the 2009 York food festival with our green eggs.”
York Festival of Food & Drink takes place in Parliament Street, York on Saturday and Sunday June 1 and 2.