How Jennie Palmer went from making theatre costumes to being the woman behind award-winning Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil

Jennie Palmer was a theatre costume maker, now she runs award-winning Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil. Catherine Scott reports.

Jennie Palmer of North Breckenholme Farm, Thixendale, who is schooling two young children alongside marketing for the families Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil business. Picture James Hardisty

On a farm nestled in Thixendale, a tiny village in a quiet corner of the Yorkshire Wolds, Jennie and Adam Palmer produce oils, dressing and mayonnaise all based on their award winning rapeseed oil.

The oil is produced exclusively from home and Yorkshire Wolds grown rape and blended, bottled and labelled on the family farm.

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The farm, North Breckenholme extends to 200 acres high in the Yorkshire Wolds and is also home to 1,500 breeding ewes.

Jennie Palmer made theatre costumes before having her first child Charlie and now works full time in the family business

Adam took over the tenancy of the farm that is part of the Garrowby Estate at just 19 years old after the sudden death of his grandfather.

“Historically, the farm had grown oil seed rape as part of the rotation, but Adam realised the value of the crop as a culinary oil and the Breckenholme business was born,” explains Jennie.

“With the emotional and financial support of family and friends, we successfully diversified into rapeseed oil production and launched the original, natural cold pressed extra virgin Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil at a farmers’ market in York in 2008.”

Jennie and Adam met when they were at secondary school together and Jennie’s original career was a far cry from farming.

. Jennie Palmer is schooling two young children Ivy, seven, and Charlie,nine, alongside marketing for the families Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil business.

“I originally trained as a costume maker and worked in theatres throughout Yorkshire,” she recalls.

“We had our first child, Charlie in 2010. The following year, I resigned from the theatre to immerse myself in the business and to put my love of food and creative skills to good use in new product and recipe development, and marketing and design.”

The Palmer’s Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Rapeseed Oil is produced from seed that is pressed, bottled, and labelled at the farm.

“By marketing our oil as a high quality culinary oil that takes its distinctive, yet gentle, nutty taste from the chalk of the Yorkshire Wolds, we have been able to add value to the oil and use it as a base to develop more added value products including flavoured oils, dressings, mayonnaise,” explains Jennie.

Jennie and Adam and Charlie and Ivy on the farm at Thixendale North Yorkshire

“It is this same oil that forms the base for the products in our Charlie & Ivy’s range. Charlie & Ivy’s launched in 2014 – named after our two children (Charlie 10 and Ivy seven) – and evolved out of our love of experimenting with ingredients and flavours to create fabulous, simple food, designed to bring people together.”

Like for most businesses the coronavirus pandemic has proved a headache both for the business and personally, with the Palmers having to home school Charlie and Ivy, while also trying to keep their business going. But this resourceful couple again looked at how they could diversify.

“After the initial panic of how to account for the financial shortfall from shows and ways of direct selling being suspended and a crash course in how to teach two primary schoolchildren at home whilst working ‘full time’ (and remaining sane), we turned our apprehension into creativity and devised ways to drive web sales, including popular lockdown bundles,” says Jennie. “We also improved out website, increased our social media presence and introduced virtual shows, video tutorials and recipe sharing to make the most of the ‘home body’ phenomenon that grew out of the crisis.

“We also launched our first ever virtual feast, where we sold bundles of products and supplied recipes, Zoom backdrops and even a playlist for remote Midsummer gatherings.

Adam Palmer was just 19 when he took over running the famr when his grandfather died. He decided to diversify into making Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil

“We have been overwhelmed by the lovely messages of support, especially from people who gave our products as gifts over Christmas.”

They have not let lockdowns stand in the way of developing their business either and continue to innovate with a programme of new product development, including Blackberry, Thyme and Balsamic Bread Dipper, White Balsamic, Tarragon and White Peppercorn.

“I think it is important, especially at the moment, to give people something new,” says Jennie who says the pandemic has also seen the local food producers come together.

“At the very beginning Adam and I sat down and said we really didn’t want to have to furlough anyone and therefore were passionate about keeping to the development side of the business going. We have been lucky. I have so many friends whose businesses are really struggling as a result of the pandemic.”

She believes provenance and traceability are a major factor in the success of their brands, and they are passionate about raising the profile of Yorkshire’s artisan producers.

“Our team of staff has grown from family and friends are viewed by us as an integral part of our brand. The whole team is passionate about promoting Yorkshire produce, has an exemplary work ethic and we genuinely enjoy our work. There is a happy vibe to the business that extends from the factory to market stalls and food festivals when pandemics permit.”

And it really is a family affair – when Adam’s father, Ben, retired as a ship’s captain he joined the business to oversee production and quality control.

“Breckenholme is a family business that was founded by the first and second generation Palmers, with its lifestyle brand named after the third generation. People have supported us from the early years; they have grown with us and become part of our product. It’s this organic growth that has formed the backbone of our business.”