Farm of the Week: Father and son's regenerative farming project in the Yorkshire Dales - with shop and food truck
It’s not because farmers don’t believe in both of these things, it’s just that there is a feeling that being regenerative and sustainable are nothing new. It’s where every farmer feels they are already. They regenerate fields every year and everyone wants to be sustainable.
Ben Leatham farms with his father Oliver at Telfit Farm, Marske in Swaledale and he’s also responsible for a new business model that will help other Dales livestock farmers, of similar volition to himself, through his eatTelfit brand, that he sees as making the most of the principles of regenerative farming.
“We came here seven years ago,” says Ben. “We believe in quality produce from animals farmed on regenerative farms or high nature farms, that may also be organically farmed or are perhaps better simplified as farms that are doing things that are beneficial to the environment.
“We took on Telfit in 2016. It had been heavily fertilised and we decided immediately that we had to do something about the quality of the soil. That was our initial number one goal and since that time we have been applying such as composts, gypsum and anything that benefits the soil.
“We have taken heed of expert professional advice we have received from preeminent people in the soil world including American lady Dr Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web School.
Ben and Oliver own 550 acres and tenant a further 100 acres. They also own the moorland of Skelton Moor. Ben says it was always their intention to go down the regenerative route and quality produce, but that what they started with, livestock-wise, is changing.
“We were always all guns blazing on going into regenerative agriculture. We were set on that, doing it the way that works best for us, for the soil and for quality livestock, but it is all a process by which you find out what works and what doesn’t.
“In our case, we have now found the best way to achieve what we are looking for is currently to reduce stock numbers, to rest the ground and then begin increasing numbers once again. We are focused on getting the right breeds as well as the right numbers to produce high quality meat profitably and regeneratively.
“We started with White Park cattle, but have now moved away from them and next week we will have a small Belted Galloway herd arriving here at Telfit.
“Unfortunately, we found the White Park breed was just too heavy and they were doing a bit of damage to the land. We have also reduced our Swaledale sheep flock from 330 ewes to 180.
Ben sees the Belted Galloway as being a better all-round fit for Telfit.
“I would argue that any native beef animal properly reared on grass pastures and matured will produce wonderful beef. We had no problems with selling White Park beef and I believe we will do well with the Belties.
“We’ve just bought 15 Belted Galloway heifers with calves at foot and, hopefully in-calf as well. We have moved to them because they are a smaller breed, that will produce less damage to the land and will hopefully result in further soil health improvement and allow the grass to grow and fix the soil.
Ben believes the work already under way on the farm, that has already included the planting of 18,000 trees, renewing drystone walls and increasing soil health is a clear indication of their regenerative credentials.
“We are currently in Mid-Tier Stewardship and we are moving towards the SFI and working with such as White Rose Forest in introducing wood pasture onto the farm. We are hoping to introduce wildflower meadows, renewing hedgerows and we are very focused on going towards nature friendly farming, whilst also being productive.
Livestock production also includes Middle White pigs, the Yorkshire pig. Ben has four sows at present and has started crossing them with a Berkshire boar.
Ben’s business model for Telfit is based upon farmers working together, for other farmers to achieve greater premiums for their produce through eatTelfit, which he started as an online butchery but is now growing in other directions.
“We started with our own produce. We were only selling boxes and shares of an animal and when you do that on your own you can only sell when produce is available. You need more stock to make sure you can meet demand.
“Essentially EatTelfit is aimed at the consumer, but it is also about promoting other farmers that choose to work in this manner and hopefully will grow regenerative agriculture as a healthy concept around the country with grass fed livestock and nature friendly farming.
“We have only been operating eatTelfit for a short space of time and have already built up a number of fellow farmers who are benefitting from selling through the brand, from Cumbria, Durham and North Yorkshire. The thing is that while I only have a small number of farmers so far there are definitely many farmers that are going this way, regeneratively, that just don’t know how they could benefit from being involved.
“I am trying to make eatTelfit as beneficial to other farmers as I possibly can by paying a premium over and above the market price. We are in the process of setting up new farm shop premises on an industrial unit in Leyburn and one of the key things I’ve invested in is a commercial freezer.
“We get produce at its very best and sell everything frozen and I genuinely believe that freezing meat doesn’t impact the quality of the produce.
Ben has several plans in store for the future of eatTelfit in both short and long term.
“We now have an eatTelfit food truck, that’s a new focus. There are currently three sides to the eatTelfit brand and they are retail, wholesale and the food truck. All three will complement each other in terms of dealing with carcase imbalance.
“When you buy a whole carcase you do end up with that. As much as I would love people to buy as much brisket as they would sirloin steak, in reality that doesn’t happen. That’s where the food truck comes in with its entirely charcoal cooking and helps with use of so-called lesser cuts.
“This allows me to transform those cuts to produce delicious food. We attended Wensleydale Show this year, where we got best in show. We will do all kinds of shows, events, weddings, parties and boutique festivals next year.
“I’m keen to add even more to eatTelfit which will include a charcuterie range launch, and I’d love to do ready meals, all adding value to the produce. And I’m not just about meat, not just a butcher. The larder on our website will sell the best of bang on British produce to complement the meats.
“But what I really want to make clear is that eatTelfit is not just about our farm in Swaledale, but everyone involved, including fabulous quality turkeys for Christmas produced on a lovely 40-acre North Yorkshire woodland.