Monday morning 10am and there’s a buzz around Home Farm in East Rounton just a mile from the A19, north of the Cleveland Tontine turn-off to Stokesley.
The car park is filling with breakfast customers, the butchers are preparing new cuts and the coffee machine roars. I’m informed it’s always busy at Roots Farm Shop & Café, started six years ago by Katherine Brown with her father Michael Hutchinson. Kay, Michael’s wife and Katherine’s mum is among those preparing for the day ahead.
“This is a 220 acre arable/beef farm tenanted from Sir John and Lady Venetia Bell,” says Michael. “The reason we started the farm shop and café was that the income from the farm business alone wasn’t enough to get Katherine working here. When Katherine was at Harper Adams College she wrote her dissertation about farm shops and that’s the route we’ve gone down.”
It’s a far cry from how Home Farm started life on the estate as a new model farm around the turn of the 20th century. Then, it had a monorail system in the farm buildings that must have been the technological breakthrough of the day.
There are still cattle on the farm but it’s people that now make the difference here and Roots has made a big impression since opening in 2008. Katherine believes their future lies in the passion she and her parents have for where they live and for food. She’s also quick to pay tribute to a man who inspired her.
“Whenever I had a project to put together for school I always made it something that related to what I wanted to do back home, so the dissertation followed that same path.
“When I worked at Sam Turner’s in Northallerton my boss was Charlie Turner. I looked up to him because he mucked in with the rest of the team and was a really good leader. He got me interested in customer service, something where they excel.
“I love dealing with the public. We’ve been very privileged to grow up where we have and it’s so nice to be able to share our enjoyment of the countryside and our obsession with producing good food. So many people don’t understand how farming works and where food comes from and that’s where dad and I can share our knowledge with others.
“First and foremost we want to keep the working farm side of what we do here as the main thing. Apart from one small sign just before you turn into the farm you wouldn’t know there’s a farm shop here at all.”
That doesn’t mean they haven’t tried to organise some advertising. Roots is housed in what were livestock buildings and has been tastefully designed in keeping with the other farm buildings. Katherine wouldn’t say no to some signage from the A19 but so far that’s been refused and the cost incurred has put them off. It seems crazy that an area that’s growing as a destination visit - The Rountons has several other wonderful amenities including a walled garden, a popular clotted cream business and its model village - should be ignored by its own council.
“It’s the café and the butchery that draws people in and while they’re here they like looking around the cattle. We have 35 suckler cows and use their progeny off them to fatten and go through the butchery. We also buy in around 50 store cattle from Ruswarp Mart. Our own cattle are Limousin X and Hereford X that have been put to the Aberdeen Angus bull but we’re changing that soon.
“A teacher once told me that you haven’t to be reactive you have to be proactive. Customers’ needs change. We were finding that our beasts were going fat a bit too quickly and the butchers talked with dad about it.
“When people talk about old breeds they often say they prefer them with a bit more fat but funnily enough when they see the steaks and sides of beef on the counter they will invariably pick out the cuts with less fat. It’s all about getting the right flavour and the right balance.
“The rest of the meat in the butchery is all sourced from other neighbouring farms. Dad takes them to the slaughterhouse and they come back as whole carcases to be cut or processed into what we need. Because we are in control of everything we can ensure that the quality is right throughout.”
It’s waitress service in the café and to run the operation smoothly, there are 50 staff on its books.
“Our all day breakfasts and afternoon teas are very popular especially as our portion sizes are quite big! Cyclists love it. Their favourite seems to be a cheese scone with black coffee,” says Katherine.
“We do get customers who do a full basket shop with us and we make a point of stocking things that people might not find anywhere else, as well as local produce such as clotted cream from Stamfrey Farm and Rountons coffee. We also now have Stokesley Farmers Market here on the third Sunday every month.”