Farm of the Week: Petals complement traditional farming at foot of the Wolds

Gill Hodgson at Field House farm, Everingham, with a seasonal sheaf.  Picture: Gary Longbottom
Gill Hodgson at Field House farm, Everingham, with a seasonal sheaf. Picture: Gary Longbottom
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Carrots, cattle and cornflowers are just three elements that make up what goes on at the 200-acre Field House Farm in Everingham at the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Gill Hodgson was raised here by her parents Joy and Geoff Wilkinson and it is where today the agricultural baton has been passed to Gill and husband John’s son-in-law Sam Padfield and his wife, their daughter Peggy.

Gill has been the family member most in the public eye over the past decade having started Flowers From The Farm, a not-for-profit organisation that has blossomed from 12 members at the end of its first year in 2011 to 357 this week. It all came about after Gill set up Field House Flowers.

“I started my own small business by chance when a friend asked me to grow flowers for her wedding. I grew far too many and decided to put an old table out at the end of our driveway selling bunches for a pound a time. They sold so well that the next year I planted five times as many including hardy annuals, cornflowers, sweet peas, pot marigolds in fact anything that would grow easily and started attending Driffield Farmers Market, which also led to supplying even more weddings as well as many funerals.

“I now grow 200 varieties and thousands of flowers every year either outside or in polytunnels. I forage from hedgerows. There’s a rustic, earthy fashion in flowers at present and I major on being able to go and pick something every day of the year.”

Field House Flowers is a full-time job but with the growth of Flowers From The Farm and Gill’s passion for the UK’s flower revolution she’s streamlining her operation a little.

“I’m still organising some full scale wedding flower arrangements but I’m not taking any more commissions after those I’m already committed to as it takes so many days out of my week and both Flowers From The Farm and my own flower business needs that time.

“I’ve always offered a bouquets and buckets service for those who want to have the flowers for their weddings from me and that will remain, it’s just the time setting up others’ special occasions that I’m no longer going to be involved with.

“Flowers From The Farm came about because there wasn’t an organisation for people like me so I set one up thinking that I was also offering farmers a valuable diversification opportunity. There really is a UK flower revolution going on at the moment and in much the same way as with food people are starting to realise that there are huge benefits to sourcing locally. You just can’t beat the wonderful smell of UK flowers. Imported flowers, as many are in supermarkets, don’t have that because of preservatives used for transportation from countries such as Columbia, India, Kenya and Ecuador.

“The way it has worked out I would say about a third of the membership of Flowers From The Farm are people from farms and it’s generally farmers’ wives supplementing their home income, but there’s so much more that it could become. It’s a diversification where you don’t have big input costs and it has surprised some in just what kind of impact it can make, but I wouldn’t want to give people the wrong impression. It really is hard work. People will come up to you at a show in the summer time when you’re dressed nicely, your nails have been done and tell you that you have the perfect job, but they won’t have seen me this week up to my knees in mud around here.”

The sign at the farm gate now shows the name Padfield in recognition of the shift in emphasis on the farm. While Gill’s business is expanding it is smaller scale in relative terms to the agricultural side that sees John looking after the crop growing land and Sam increasing both the suckler herd and his own agricultural contracting operation.

“We have 20 acres of grass, 30 acres of woodland and the rest is arable,” says John. “We rent around 30 acres to Guy Poskitt for carrots, leaving around 120 acres of cereals and oilseed rape growing Beluga winter wheat and Bazuka winter barley.”

Sam comes from Essex and met Peggy having come north to work with Clive Rowland on Lord Halifax’s Garrowby Estate. Sam and Peggy married three years ago and have two young sons Foxton and Stanley. Peggy works with Richard Tasker at York Auction Centre and Sam has the bit firmly between his teeth on the farm and working for his contracting customers.

“I’d like to keep increasing our cattle numbers. At present we have 55 suckler cows calving in autumn and spring. We have 15 Limousin pedigrees with the remainder being three-quarter of fifteen-sixteenth Limousins put to either the Limousin or Belgian Blue bull. We’re keeping back 15 yearling heifers to bull at this back end or into next year and we leave the bulls that are born entire selling them at Selby livestock market as stores at around eight months. In time and when we have the space I’d like to build the cows up to 100 and keep the bulls back to finish.”

Sam is also aware of the need for greater grazing opportunities and the role grass plays in their diet.

“The cattle are mainly grass fed and in addition to renting a dale in Millington we will be renting 15 acres of grazing in the village this year. We’ve drilled 40 acres of new silage leys at Burnby and hopefully we will be able to take on more grazing nearer home in the future.

“My contracting business includes a full grassland service including mowing, tedding, raking, baling and wrapping. Last season I wrapped 5,500 bales. It is building steadily. I now work for over 20 customers.”

Field House Farm is home to another separate business, independent Land Rover specialists JAS Land Rover run by Gill and John’s eldest son Joe and his partner Steph.