But they aren’t standing on a soap box, lecturing on the evils of intensive farming methods, far from it. They are leading by example in the hope other farmers will follow and customers will change the way they shop.
“We are entrepreneurial farmers who want to change the industry for the better,” says Emma. “We hope to bring farming closer to the public, and to show people the realities of life on a farm, all the fun and hard work that goes on behind the scenes."
Ravenscar: The upmarket seaside resort that was never builtThe couple run Minskip Farm Shop, near Boroughbridge.
“You can see the hens ranging and the vegetables growing when you get out of the car. We want to stay grassroots and true to the original farm, but enhance our customers’ opportunity to get close to their food again.”
As we wander around the 16 acres behind the farm shop, their 6,000 hens happily peck away at grapefruits and other citrus fruits scattered around. “Citrus fruits are good for their eggs,” says Ben. Eggs are their mainstay and their passion for their produce is clear to see.
The Yorkshire Shepherdess is going on tour - this is where you can see her liveWe visit a field of alpacas who are far from just a draw for younger members of the public. “We got the alpacas to protect the chickens from foxes,” explains Emma.
So much do they believe in the welfare of their animals that when their first flock of chickens came to the end of their useful egg-laying life, rather than send them for slaughter as is normal practice, they decided to rehome them.
“We did have to jump through a few hoops to be allowed to do it. We weren’t actually sure that all the people who said they wanted a chicken would actually turn up to get them,” says Ben.
But they did and the rehousing campaign also brought welcome media attention which put the spotlight on the farm shop in a small hamlet on the edge of Boroughbridge.
Goats and pigs are also a feature of Minskip Farm Shop, although they seem more like pets than anything else but they all have a purpose.
The Hole of Horcum: Welcome to the Grand Canyon of YorkshireThe couple bought Minskip, an existing farm shop, in 2017 after they decided they wanted to work in food and farming. It may seem a strange decision as neither of them had started their careers with that intention.
Ben did grow up on a farm near Helmsley but decided not to follow in his father’s footsteps and instead studied archaeology at Edinburgh University where he met Emma, who was studying English literature. They met through mutual friends and it seemed that it was a case of opposites attract.
“We are very different people and I think that is one of the reasons we work so well together,” says Emma.
“We complement each other, I am a broad brush stroke and impatient person. Ben is much more into detail but also can see the bigger picture. It works well.”
After university Emma studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway where she was taught by the likes of Andrew Motion. She also did work experience at a literary agent.
“When I was a teenager I wanted to be an actress but writing was similar,” says Emma, who writes under her maiden name Emma Chapman. “But if I didn’t succeed I wanted to work in publishing. It also helped me get my foot in the door.”
During this time Emma was also working on her own novel. “They knew I was writing a book and they asked to see it. By then we were in the process of moving to Australia with Ben’s job.”
Over the next two or three years Emma worked with an editor before sending it off to 14 publishers in the UK.
“We lived in the outback in Western Australia and Ben was away for weeks at a time and gave me time to write. Then he’d come back and would get some time off and we would spend quality time together.”
How To Be a Good Wife was published in 2013 and Ben and Emma married the same year.
Her book received many plaudits at home and abroad and sold more than 100,000 copies in the UK. She started work on her second novel straight away.
“I wanted to write a book about a photojournalist during the Vietnam war. I went to Vietnam to research the book.”
There she met a man who ran an English school and spoke fluent English and had been in Vietnam during the war.
Emma spent three months teaching in Vietnam during which time she set up a charity, Vietnam Volunteer Teachers, to send more help to the school. But Emma says she had to wind up the charity when the Vietnamese government took a dim view of what she was doing.
“By then I had left Vietnam but I was worried about my contact there and so wound up the charity.”
Emma’s second novel The Last Photograph was published in 2016 again to critical acclaim.
By then they had moved to Indonesia with Ben’s job. But after a couple of years they both decided they wanted to do something different.
“We had started to realise that what we really wanted to do was run our own business and have a go at something different and we’d saved enough money to do that,” says Ben. “I’d always been interested in food and food production.
“I had a background in farming and I knew there was potential to make an impact and have an interesting time doing it. My grandad had 100 pigs, 100 cows and 100 acres. But over the last 50 years farming has completely changed with intensive farms producing 10,000 animals for slaughter a year. We wanted to get back to basics.”
Initially they moved back to Ben’s family farm near Helmsley where they learned the ropes but soon realised it wasn’t for them and moved onto the idea of having a farm shop.
They started to look around for potential businesses and came across Minskip Farm Shop for sale on the internet.
It had been run successfully for years by Pauline and David Barker, growing and selling vegetables and eggs from their chickens.
“We didn’t really know much about farm shops,” admits Emma.
But it was the 6,000 hens that persuaded them and since then hens and egg production have become Ben’s passion.
“We can’t compete with the supermarkets, but I don’t think people expect us to be the same price as the supermarkets."
They really don’t mind that there is a Morrisons within a few yards of their farm shop.
“I think it actually helps us. People will go to Morrisons for their big things and then come to us for eggs and fresh produce, because that’s exactly what we have. Local fresh produce.”
They also like to work in collaboration with like-minded producers. The chicken they sell is from Herb Fed Poultry, they have chocolate from Bear and Mouse, a small Ripon artisan producer.
“We like to support as many local producers as possible,” says Ben.
And they must be doing something right. In the couple of years since they took over the business they have won many accolades including most recently Best Newcomer in the Farm Shop and Deli Awards. But they are not just happy to sit on the laurels of their success. They have plans, big plans. They have submitted planning permission to convert a barn into a cafe which will serve their fresh produce and of course eggs.
But Minskip Farm Shop is not just a business. They may be idealistic but they are passionate about a more transparent and sustainable future for our food industry. They want to educate rather than preach – and they are not afraid of putting their money where their mouth is.