From East Yorkshire farm to Humber market stall

Alan Turner with his Axholme Dexter Beef herd.
Alan Turner with his Axholme Dexter Beef herd.
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Many have come, others have gone, but there is one farmers market in East Yorkshire that has well and truly made its mark.

It is back on tomorrow and Dexter beef man Alan Turner, of Poplar Farm near Westwoodside on the Isle of Axholme, will be there.

“I can’t afford to miss it. Farmers markets provide almost 100 per cent of my income and the Humber Bridge Farmers Market is so busy.

“It has built on its reputation and now has 150 stallholders split 50/50 between craft stalls and rural produce. It means I can speak direct to my customers, they can ask me anything about where the meat comes from and how the animals have been raised.

“That kind of detail is more important to people than ever after incorrect labelling of supermarket meat in recent times and the ‘horsegate’ scandal. Stories such as that have given even greater impetus to local butchers and farmers’ market stallholders.

“People will pay a fair price for genuine home-reared produce. Our Axholme Dexter Beef has become extremely popular at each of the four farmers markets I attend every month, whether for prime cuts, steaks, burgers, sausages or beef pies.”

Alan also realises that a farmers market is only as good as those who run it and he’s full of praise for the three ladies who are responsible, along with the Humber Bridge Board.

“Ruth, Hannah and their mum work very hard and we’re all appreciative of their efforts. They are rightly quite strict on the kind of stalls that should be present. I’ve seen some at other markets who are selling what they have bought-in rather than what they have produced and that spoils it. Customers will pay a premium for local good quality produce and they need to know it is what it is supposed to be.

“I just stick to beef because that’s what I rear and I have been a butcher since starting when I was 10-years-old for a man called Ron Hutchinson in my home village of Everton near Bawtry. While I prepare a lot of cuts, pies, sausages and burgers for the stall I will also cut on the stall to customers’ requirements. That’s another thing that people like to see.”

The choice to go into Dexter cattle came after a butchery and farming career that had seen Alan leave his homeland to run a butcher’s shop in the village of Kiverton near Sheffield, and renting farms both in Kiverton and back in Everton on which he had pigs. In 1985 Alan and his wife June bought the Poplar Farm near Westwoodside.

“We had a large pig herd and this place had the buildings to cope. At one point we got up to 120 breeding sows mainly Large White X Landrace. We were selling in the local livestock markets in Gainsborough and Doncaster that are both sadly no longer around.”

An accident and then the bottom falling out of the pig market was the signal for Alan’s move to where he is now with his Dexter beef herd.

“In 1996 a lump of concrete fell on my leg, not surprisingly breaking it and I was out of action for about 18 months. We tried using agency staff but that wasn’t economical so we destocked.

“Unfortunately the biggest mistake I ever made was restocking when I was fit again. We did it and then pigs hit rock bottom. We were getting just £10-£12 per pig.

“We’d had one or two Dexters since 2000 for our own use and I liked the animals and the beef they produced. June could see how disillusioned I had become with the pigs and supported me all the way when we made the decision to go into Dexters.

“The last pigs left in November 2005 and in the same year we borrowed some money, bought another 30 acres and quickly expanded to a herd of 160. I’d always wanted to be not just a producer but also a retailer selling what I produced direct to the consumer and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.”

In recent years Alan has scaled back his herd to around 70 head of cattle to balance time on the farm with manning his market stall.

“One of our two sons, Stephen, has just bought an Aberdeen Angus bull and he’s wanting to build the herd back up. He’s looking at the Angus going on to the Dexter to add a little more to the Dexter carcase to produce a greater amount of meat per animal.”

Match made in The Yorkshire Post

June Turner is originally from Ayrshire and has her own veterinary practice in Misterton near Doncaster.

She and Alan met through an advertisement placed in The Yorkshire Post. They have two sons – Stuart, 25, who works for a local irrigation company, and Stephen, 22, who works on a local farm.

June helps Alan at the Humber Bridge Farmers Market.

She said: “It’s an ideal Sunday morning for families with something for everybody. The market takes place in the Humber Bridge Viewing Area car park and this provides not only a great view but also a nice walk on the riverbank.”