Cedarbarn Farm Shop: The Yorkshire business that has gone from roadside caravan to cafe with miniature railway

There’s nothing Karl Avison likes more than being out in a field on his own, with his thoughts. It’s still the case today even though his life has changed immeasurably from those days when he was simply on his tractor on a relatively small farm, but those times led to what he and his wife Mandy have achieved in the past seventeen years since they started Cedarbarn Farm Shop, Café and Miniature Railway, from a roadside caravan.

Recently they picked up a Yorkshire Post Rural Award 2023 as Rural Business of the Year, adding to their awards tally. Karl says what they have done has given them so much they would never have experienced.

“Cedarbarn has brought us a lot more opportunities. We have met so many great people.

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“We were only a small family farm of 150 acres that just about paid for me and family, whereas we now support 30-plus families, in some kind of a way, through them being part of the team, and what is really important is they are all local people who share our passion and enthusiasm for local food. We couldn’t do all this without them.

Karl Avison and the leeks at Cedarbarn Farm Shop,  Pickering.Karl Avison and the leeks at Cedarbarn Farm Shop,  Pickering.
Karl Avison and the leeks at Cedarbarn Farm Shop, Pickering.

Mandy says one of the things they did during the lockdowns really helped in their relationship with their local community.

“There’s no way we could have known how Cedarbarn would grow,” says Mandy. “Karl has this massive energy and is always thinking of the next idea. I’ve spent my working life in hospitality.

“Since the pandemic we’ve really taken off. We did a lot of local deliveries during the lockdowns and that got the word out that we are more than just a place for holidaymakers and we are committed to our local community.

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Mandy says the farm shop, butchery and café are all flourishing and demand for good, traditional food is as strong today as it has ever been.

Karl & Mandy Avison with daughter ChloeKarl & Mandy Avison with daughter Chloe
Karl & Mandy Avison with daughter Chloe

“We started with wholesome traditional food, prepared wholly on the premises, and that’s where we still are, serving the favourites - cottage pie, lasagne, burgers and steak pie. It’s what people come for.

“There is a calling for traditional food without being too fussy. We use our own Angus beef, our own lamb and free-range pork from a local farm. Local provenance is a big thing. We’re also finding a lot more people eating out at lunchtimes, perhaps because the cost of going out on a night is more expensive. People having late lunches has definitely grown.

Another massive increase Karl and Mandy have seen has been in the popularity of their ready meals.

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“During lockdown we delivered a huge amount of ready meals and post-Covid sales of ready meals have gone up by 400 per cent. Our customers say they love them because they are good, honest, traditional meals.

Mandy Avison and produceMandy Avison and produce
Mandy Avison and produce

“They are all homecooked in our kitchen and go into the shop. We add no preservatives. They are exactly the same dish as you would have in the café. Our daughter Chloe, who works with us and now has two little boys Albert and Freddie, is Gluten Free and we have added Gluten Free and also Vegan alternatives to our menus.

Karl is a fourth generation farmer. The main acreage of his farming operation is at Top Bridge Farm just three miles away from Cedarbarn, which is still where he can get away and think of his next idea.

“We farm across two sites with a mix of arable cropping, an Angus suckler herd and sheep. We have 27 acres here on the A170 just outside Pickering where we grow 8 acres of soft fruit.

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“Everything we produce from livestock, soft fruit and vegetables comes through shop. We have pure Angus cows that we put to a Limousin bull. We aim to finish our beef at around 22-24 months. We get great marbling and we hang the beef for 28 days.

“I work with a neighbouring farmer David Beal. Our cows calve at his place and we finish them at Top Bridge. David is an excellent cattle man and well respected. Our sheep are Suffolk-cross ewes put to Abermax tups. All beef and lamb comes into the butchery, the shop and café.

Karl says the fruit enterprise has become a much more precise operation in more recent times.

“We’ve converted to irrigating the strawberries and raspberries and we’re on 60-day plants. It means we can time them better for the season. We also have redcurrants, rhubarb, gooseberries and asparagus, but the strawberries are our best seller.

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“We don’t sell anything wholesale, anything we grow we sell through the shop and make our own preserves. We also have 100 apple trees including Bramleys, cider apples and eaters and they are all processed through the shop. We also grow pumpkins at Top Bridge.

Mandy says they work closely with two other local producers in the area.

“We work with Wolds Apple Juice who make juice out of our apples, and Fruity Kitchen near Malton who produce preserves out of our fruit.

Karl found himself a new career through another of his ideas when he came up with a miniature railway.

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“I became a train driver,” says Karl. “It is always busy during the summer season and I don’t drive it as much as I used to, as I have some really enthusiastic lads who love to do it.

“We give everyone a tour around what we are growing. We take educational visits of schools and nurseries around, we will drop them off at the fruit, and then we will walk them back.

Another new addition to Cedarbarn has been the dog walking field.

“It’s something else I’d never have expected,” says Karl. “We’ve put up a Dutch Barn for shelter so that people can have a coffee while they are here. The dog field is really busy and we have a lot of local people come who really do look after it.

“What next? Who knows? Well, actually, we do. We’re about to extend the butchery and farm shop.