Stepney Hill Farm has a reputation for supplying tasty meat to top restaurants. Ben Barnett charts its success story.
Ashley Tyson has travelled the world, slept rough to tend his sheep and split from a business partnership with his brother, all on his way to becoming a leading butcher in Scarborough.
Lamb, pork and beef reared on his clover rich fields at Stepney Hill Farm is butchered on site and is supplied to some of the town’s top restaurants and hotels. It is also served at Ashley’s and his wife Nicola’s own tea rooms on the farm, at their cafe-come-restaurant in the town centre and is sold to customers at Stepney Hill Farm Shop next to the farmhouse.
The business was started from scratch a little over six years ago but Ashley’s path to success is a longer story and it started when he left the family farm as a teenager.
Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen this week, Ashley, 39, recalls his journey.
“I was 18 and I got a one-way ticket to Bangkok with a friend, and we got quite a culture shock.
“After a while my friend stayed in Singapore and I went to Australia. I turned up in Australia with £80 in my pocket but I’d met an agent who got me contract work on farms. I worked on a 4,000-acre arable farm with 750 head of cattle in Clermont, Queensland. Later I worked for the owner’s cousins who had a 4,000-acre irrigated farm in the Darling Downs.
“I spent five years travelling, working on farms, spending up and going back for work, in between I came back to England and worked on farms and doing building work.
“I met my wife Nicola when I was 23. I came back from Australia on a Wednesday evening, that was when we met and we’ve been together ever since.”
The couple have three children, Kye, 17, Kaitlyn, 15, and Isabella, seven.
“When we got together farming was tight financially. There was no paid work for me on the farm.
“I started my own building business; building houses, doing groundworks and putting fencing up. I did that up until six-and-a-half years ago, as well as working on farms, but my true love is farming.”
In 2006, Ashley’s father John, now aged 70, signed over the farm to his two sons, Ashley and James, just like his father had done in the 70s when the farm was passed to John and his brother Alan.
John was a dairy farmer until the mid-80s before falling milk prices saw a change of tack to running suckler cows and sheep instead. He still works on the farm every day.
When his sons took over, the farm lacked a farmhouse as a result of a divorce settlement. John lived three miles down the road and the family got by sleeping in hayracks, cowsheds and cars to look after their animals.
“We were lambing 350 sheep and there was nowhere to keep warm up here so me and my brother were sleeping rough for three or four years over the lambing and calving period. We loved it.
“I wanted to take on the farm and put planning permission in to build the house. It took a year to get the plans passed.” In November 2006, Ashley and Nicola moved into the new farmhouse which they had designed and helped build themselves.
“We were still doing beef and sheep but needed another way of diversifying so me and my brother set up an agricultural contracting business,” Ashley says.
“At the same time we started doing boxed meat. We thought we have a lot of friends that like beef so we started taking a beast and lambs to the local slaughterhouse and they would cut and box them up.”
But in 2010, Ashley was unsatisfied and wanted to open a farm shop and to supply meat to chefs.
“We weren’t in control of the costs of meat and we had no fridges to store it in.
“I could see there was a demand for good quality local meat.
“We’re right next to Scarborough and alongside one of the main roads into town so I said to my brother and my dad this is what we wanted to do and it’s going to cost £125,000 to take an old stable block and turn it into a butchery building.”
Ashley pushed ahead with his plans and nine months later the butchery building was up and running.
As well as the farm shop, it consists of a cutting room, office, toilet block, two walk-in fridges and a walk-in freezer.
Ashley’s brother took on the agricultural contracting business and moved to nearby Irton, taking the suckler herd and 450 sheep with him, while Ashley still farms 100 rare breed pigs including Kunekunes, Saddlebacks and British Lops, Shorthorn cattle and a flock of Swaledale, Wiltshire Horn and Herdwick sheep.
Since going alone, Ashley has hired two butchers with a wealth of experience who have helped secure some high-profile customers.
Stepney Hill Farm supplies Anton’s, Lanterna Ristorante, Tuscany Pizzeria, George Michael’s Restaurant, Tricolos, CoGoni’s Restaurant and The Crown and Red Lea hotels in Scarborough, and several nursing homes.
“We’re one of the fastest growing butchers in Scarborough,” Ashley says.
As well as a boost from taking on staff, Open Farm Sunday brought 1,800 people on to the farm in 2012 and set the tills ringing, and customers keep coming back, Ashley says.
To add value to the business, Ashley offers an outdoor catering service using his hog roast machines and a barn is available for wedding receptions.
A revamp of the cafe-restaurant in Huntriss Row, which is managed by Nicola, and refurbished tea rooms on the farm, will be unveiled on Friday, October 18.
A string of award wins is proof that the hard work is paying off.
Last year, Stepney Hill Farm Butchery and Farm Shop won Scarborough’s Best Sausage Competition and this summer, chartered surveyors George F. White named the business its Farm Diversification Award in association with the Driffield Agricultural Society.
“I couldn’t have achieved all this without the support of my family and our hard-working team of staff,” adds Ashley.