YORKSHIRE’S only cultivator of an ancient organic wheat is set to open its doors for a harvest festival to show how it uses farm produce in innovative ways.
Last time Carr House Farm welcomed the public it had 500 visitors and on this occasion it hopes to see even more.
“At Open Farm Sunday in June there was an incredible turnout,” says farmer Jessica Sellers. “The harvest and apple festival on October 18 again promises to be popular. Our aim is to demonstrate the journey from field to table.”
The farm at the foot of the Wolds has been home to the Sellers family for five generations. During the past 15 years, it has undergone an evolution; to include a mill, bakery and juicery.
Tim and Caroline Sellers converted their 480 acres to organic cultivation in 1999. This, they say, has opened up new opportunities in organic and artisanal markets.
In November 2003, they invested a total of £53,000 in a wood-fired oven, a flour mill and a juicing and bottling plant, and then launched Side Oven Bakery. Today it accounts for 30 per cent of the farm’s business.
The family mills their spelt - a species of wheat cultivated since 5000 BC - and wheat in their own mill, and flakes both of those as well as oats on-site. The bakery’s 11ft oven is fired by fallen timber and coppiced wood from their land to produce bread, cakes, breakfast cereal and cereal bars made with own-grown flour and grains.
Heat from breadmaking is used to toast muesli, granola and the cereal bars. Side Oven now produces about 1,000kg of breakfast cereals a month.
All products are packed and boxed on the farm.
The family also grows elderflower, blackcurrants and apples for cordials and juice, which they pasteurise, bottle and label.
But it is cereals that have been the mainstay of the business since the 1970s, and that continue to be. Working on a four-year rotation, the Sellers grow Paragon wheat for its disease resistance, and Frankencorn or Zollenspelt spelt.
“These varieties work well with our conditions,” says Jessica, Tim and Caroline’s daughter who recently returned to Carr House from a career in insurance. “The soil’s heavy here, it’s not like the chalky light soils of the Wolds. But it holds moisture well, which makes it more productive.”
Oats, barley and beans are also grown and their manure crop of choice is red clover, as it competes well with weeds. Sheep graze this during the fallow year to fertilise the soil.
Currently 100 acres are planted with spring wheat, which yields 200-250 tonnes a year. They produced 100 tonnes of milling oats last year on 50 acres, and have built up their acreage of spelt to 100 acres. On average it yields between 0.81-1 tonne per acre.
Tim says: “Our rotation leans heavily towards spring cropping which means we have over-wintered stubbles, which provide habitat and food for a wide range of wildlife. As a consequence of growing green manure crop like clover and vetch, the organic matter ploughed in has vastly improved the workability of the soil with consequent benefits to establishment and yield.”
Caroline says: “Converting to organic was a very big change, but it has opened doors that otherwise wouldn’t have opened. We were lucky that at that time there were grant incentives that help you during the conversion. It was quite a nail-biting experience, but it’s worked for us.”
Side Oven has enjoyed steady sales growth for a decade.
Caroline says: “Initially we were wholesaling bread. We were putting bread into a box scheme with Organic Pantry in Tadcaster, but it just didn’t add up because we’re quite remote here. We had to sit down and make quite a hard decision.”
But she believes the decision they made was the right one: “The market for organic and artisanal produce is fiercely competitive, but by going to farmers’ markets and shows, and by having visitors come and see what we do, we’re able to get our message across.”