Holderness farmers go whole hog in to catering diversification

When your location is over a mile from even a B-road you need to have something special to attract trade. The hamlet of Fitling in Holderness is tucked away so much that many of those who have lived in the East Riding all their lives may never have heard of it, but the Evison family are changing all that with The Spotted Duck Tea Rooms that they started two-and-a-half years ago.

Helen Evison, left, and Jo King outside The Spotted Duck at Fitling, near Withernsea. Pic: Gary Longbottom

They’re one of very few families who could conceive making a go out of what had originally been one end of a farm building that had been turned into a pub called the Fitling Arms. It has now been transformed into a lovely vintage-style tearoom where anglers come for hearty breakfasts, ladies who lunch attend regularly and those who like buns and cakes can enjoy high tea.

“As we have no passing trade, given where we are, it has taken us all of the time since we opened to establish the business,” says Helen Evison who runs the tearooms.

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“We promote heavily on social media, have leaflets all around Holderness and a sign between Hornsea and Withernsea. We now have quite a number of regular visitors and word of mouth seems to be getting around as new people are finding us. We’ve just realised that people really like coming here for private parties such as wedding anniversaries. This weekend we have our first hen party.”

The Spotted Duck’s location benefits from being next door to Westfield Country Park which features lakeland lodges with hot tubs, courtyard cottages and fishing lakes.

“We rent from the country park owners and receive a good trade from those who stay here and come fishing, plus we’ve now become a bit of a favourite for cyclists.”

The Evisons have never farmed here. Brothers Mike and Andrew, Helen’s husband, have two small farms - Moat Farm in Fitling and Little Farm in Halsham - that together total just 25 acres of grassland. It was their father James, along with mum Heather, who came to the hamlet after having been in partnership with his brother in Tunstall.

“None of us would be here if James hadn’t started running a pig breeding unit,” says Helen.

Today’s farming operation sees the brothers run a contract baling business and straw sales into power stations, while also fattening pigs for JSR Farms on a B&B basis.

Mike tells of how he, his partner Joanne King, Andrew and Helen have, by playing to all their strengths combined pigs, baling, straw sales, hog roasts and latterly wedding and special function catering to create what is now a thriving family business.

“We started baling with just one baler 24 years ago and we now cover most of Holderness as well as some large estates a little further afield. We’ve moved with the times and we now use four Hesston large square balers and three 4x3 balers, which is what the straw burning plants want.

“We have contracts to supply power stations and I also trade with the livestock sector. We’ve also recently landed a composting contract. At this moment in time straw is one of farming’s stronger sectors.

“Our pig farming operation was altered completely four years ago. Up until that time we had 300 breeding sows and were selling their progeny but we decided to call it quits.

“We’ve gone through the highs and lows of farming and it’s no fun when it’s bad, producing something that nobody wants. The sector was in exactly the same state then as it is today. We now get 340 weaners delivered at around seven kilos every three weeks and take them all through to bacon at 85 kilos deadweight.

“We have around 100 pigs going into the abattoir eight miles away every week.”

Eighteen years ago Mike started out in catering. His initial plan saw him in partnership with another local farming family, the Sadlers, running a burger van and bacon bar, but it was his move into hog roasts with the name Hot Trotters that has proved the catalyst for Jo’s wedding and special function catering and Helen’s tearooms.

“It was crazy but there were times when we were making more money out of one hog roast pig than in rearing 100 pigs, so we expanded the hog roast business and still use pigs that we select from the farm.”

Always one to try and spot a trend, Mike reckoned that the hog roast market was becoming over-crowded.

“Every village seemed to have somebody doing hog roasts and it dawned on me that our hog roasts were transforming some wedding catering businesses who we were working alongside. Jo and I then decided we could not only provide hog roasts but all other food for wedding catering including everything from canapés, salads, beef, ham, salmon, turkeys and home-made puddings.

“Jo has transformed our catering business. We’ve just provided all of that and more for a fabulous Patrington YFC event held at Northfield Agricultural Services a few weeks ago and our bookings for all special events are looking amazing this year.”

That’s why when the opportunity came up to take on what had been the Fitling Arms the Evisons saw how it could also work as a base for their food prepping for their outside catering as Helen says: “If Mike hadn’t had his vision about baling, straw sales and hog roasts we wouldn’t now have The Spotted Duck.”

All HANDS TO THE HOG

Every element of the Evisons’ businesses are a family affair.

Andrew and Helen have two daughters – Megan, aged 17, and Lizzie, 16. Mike has twins Lewis and Ellie, both 17, and Jo has Rosie, 17, and Harry, 13.

“All of our children are involved in the catering, it’s a big family thing,” says Helen.

“We all work to our strengths and it’s working out well for us in the tearooms and Jo’s outside catering.”

The Spotted Duck features produce from other local farms in the area who have diversified notably Mr Moo’s ice cream and Great Newsome Brewery.

Mike and Andrew have a brother Richard who runs a successful pig enterprise of his own on the other side of the world, in Australia.