Farm of the Week: The former TV documentary maker growing rye and baking his own bread in the North York Moors

Organic bread is on the rise as consumers are becoming more aware of health and diet, according to North York Moors farmer and miller Philip Trevelyan.

Philip Trevelyan at Hill Top Farm in Spaunton

This year he and his son, Matthew, are turning their attention to growing a crop of rye to turn it from grain to flour and then rye bread from Ryedale.

Philip moved to Hill Top Farm in Spaunton with his wife Nelly in 1974, leaving a life in London and a career in TV documentary making for 55 acres and what was previously a dairy farm.

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It is now home to his Yorkshire Organic Millers business which processes 300 tonnes of wheat per year and has grown to just over 100 acres. It is also where he runs a flock of pure Swaledale sheep which graze on Moors rights.

The Trevelyans mill their own flour for bread

Philip said he was influenced by farming from an early age.

“I grew up in Newhaven, Sussex surrounded by farming and was driving tractors and pulling potatoes when I was 12 years old.

“When we first moved to Yorkshire, I read the Soil Association’s magazine and became very interested in organic farming. At that time we were living very simply and aiming for our own self-sufficiency and eating healthily.”

Philip said they started with a herd of 16 Hereford-cross-Friesian suckler cows with each suckling their own calf along with another which had been bought in.

“We also had 300 pure Swaledale ewes and grew 10-15 acres of milling wheat.

“Ours was the first wheat grown organically in this area and we supplied our milling wheat to a mill in Salkeld in Cumbria.”

But, Philip said, several older villagers told he and Nelly about the days when Spaunton had its own windmill and that Hill Top Farm had grown wheat and baked bread for local residents.

“This was all instrumental in my increasing passion for artisan bakeries,” Philip said.

“And we still have the remains of the brick oven on the farm, which was largely removed in the 1950s.”

Hill Top Farm was certified organic in 1994 as Philip said it had proved necessary in order to continue supplying the mill, but following a good harvest in 2005, Philip made the decision to start milling his own wheat.

“We are fortunate that our land produces good crops. It is very light and will usually average around 1.5 tonnes per acre.

“We started our flour production using an 80-year old wood framed mill with Derbyshire grit stones, which had been made locally. I then gave it to the museum at Hutton-le-Hole.”

Philip said orders for organic flour soon led to him having to source wheat from other organic farmers and to look at newer and better mills.

“For much of the first 10-15 years we were dependent on a number of local organic farmers including Howard and Rosemary Wass at Fadmoor, John Gibson at Gillamoor, Chris Pitt at Whenby and Mike Sellars at Pickering,” said Philip.

“I also discovered some very special mills made from a particular type of hard granite in France. Andre and Pierre Astrie are the engineers who came up with these mills and insist that they be used only by organic millers. Their philosophy is that good bread should be at the centre of community life.

“We have four of their mills and the millstones must be redressed after 150 tonnes in order to maintain their quality.”

Since 2014 and once again in the past year Philip said the momentum towards organic flour has increased which has meant looking further afield for his supply source.

“We continue to buy from local farmers and I also use wheat from a very good farmer in Lincolnshire and Tim Sellars at Foston-on-the-Wolds. The demand is still there and I am very keen to encourage growers to go organic.

“We need six tonnes per week throughout the year and that figure is growing as consumers are prepared to pay more for quality.”

Philip said Andrew Whitley, chairman of the Soil Association’s Processing Standards Committee, has been an inspiration.

“I read his book, Bread Matters, which was published around the time I started the mill and it told how he left London in 1976 to set up an organic smallholding in Cumbria which led to the award-winning The Village Bakery in Melmerby.

“We now supply many artisan bakeries throughout the UK including Wild Hearth Bakery in Scotland, Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall that supplies Rick Stein; and Haxby Bakery where Tommy Banks of The Black Swan at Oldstead gets his rye loaves from our rye flour.”

In a rotation for 2021, Philip and Matthew are growing rye instead of wheat on their acreage.

Matthew came back to the farm seven years ago after studying at Sheffield School of Art and working for Camphill Trust at Botton Village. He now lives in the farmhouse with his partner Alex and their boys Leo and Otis.

“He’s the farmer these days and looks after the flock of 150 Swaledale ewes and 150 Mules that lamb in March/April.

“It was Matthew who was responsible for turning me on to rye and this will be our second crop.

“Rye bread is very healthy, as well as being incredibly tasty. It has a far lower glycemic index number compared to wheat and that means it helps keep blood sugars down, which makes it sensible for diabetics.

“It is also an antioxidant, lowering the risk of cardio-vascular disease and its richness in vitamins and soluble fibre is good for the bowels. This year’s crop of milling rye across 12 acres is looking very healthy.”

Philip believes there should be more encouragement for organic agriculture.

“Bread and nature are two of the most vital ingredients in all our lives and our Government ministers need to start looking at ways of promoting uptake of organic systems.”