WHEN the Hird family first arrived in Yockenthwaite, the Bronte sisters were putting the finishing touches to their novels and the Chartists were marching in support of working class rights.
More than 170 years later, the Hirds have ambitions to turn their family business into a national brand that will sit on breakfast tables across the UK.
The Hird family has farmed hill sheep in a remote Yorkshire Dales valley since the 1840s, The family has decided to diversify in order to place the business on a stronger footing. So farmers Liz and Stuart Hird, supported by their sons David, and Eddie and daughter-in-law Ellen, have started to produce locally sourced breakfast cereals.
They still lamb more than 1,000 ewes, but they also produce home-made Yockenthwaite granola on a vast scale. The granola was initially offered to their guests as a healthy alternative to the full English. It proved to be such a hit that the Hirds decided to provide it to a much wider audience.
Ms Hird said: “We now supply over 120 independent farm shops and delis and an increasing number of hotels, pubs, guest houses and B&Bs who serve our cereals on their breakfast menu.
“In February 2006 we took 45 bags of our original recipe to Grassington Farmers’ Market and sold out. The following month we had returning customers who had loved the granola and so we booked more markets, and from there built up a loyal following of regular customers.”
Ms Hird recalled: “We soon struggled to cope with production in our own kitchen, so we converted an old dairy in the back of the house into a kitchen dedicated to baking and packing granola.
“We were helped in the early years by funding from Growing Routes, which was administered by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, this paid for two new commercial ovens.”
While the family still runs the business from Yockenthwaite, production was moved to Skipton in June 2011 to keep up with demand.
Ms Hird added: “We still make all our products from scratch in small batches and we think that’s what makes our products stand out.
“We take the ‘groats’, the wholegrain oat which includes the fibre-rich outer portion, as well as the centre and roll them ourselves. Because our oats are freshly-rolled to order and are as unprocessed as they possibly can be, we believe our products have a freshness you can really taste.”
“We’re currently listed in three Morrisons stores and will be adding another four in November this year as sales are going well. We’re now making enough to fill 12,500 breakfast bowls per week.”
The Hirds re-branded in the summer of 2015 and developed a new website which has helped them to attract a much larger following.
Ms Hird said: “Online sales have doubled in the last 12 months, with people buying online if there is no stockist near where they live.
“We have about 4,000 followers across our social media platforms who loyally support our products and who love to hear about life on the farm.”
She added: “We’re now a team of four plus me, Our son David came into the business on leaving school, and at 24 ,he has now taken over production. My daughter in law Ellen, who is married to my son Eddie who farms, is the office manager.”
The next step is to build Yockenthwaite into a nationally recognised granola brand.
Ms Hird said: “We are working towards this target, with a clear sales strategy and a marketing plan, designed to gradually build wider brand awareness as availability of the range increases.”
THE hamlet of Yockenthwaite is in a remote stretch of Wharfedale called Langstrothdale.
In the middle ages, parts of Langstrothdale were covered in trees and it served as a Royal hunting forest, known as Langstrothdale Chase.
The road through the dale, which runs past the Hirds’ family farm, was part of a packhorse route from Lancaster to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Yockenthwaite also has its own stone circle, which is believed to date from the Bronze Age.