Farm of the Week: Bringing the city closer to the farm

A mixture of hard work and true Yorkshire grit has helped one farming family come back from the brink as Mark Casci found out.

Situated on the edge of the Leeds suburb of Rothwell, Swithens Farm is located very much in its own quiet oasis on the edge of the city.

With rolling fields around the farm buildings as well as space for cattle, hens, pigs and sheep, the farm is much like most Yorkshire farms, except that the city of Leeds looms dramatically on the skyline.

It is from this large city that Swithens Farm owners Ian and Angela Broadhead hope to take the next step forward in the farm's history.

The holding is currently home to hundreds of animals as well as a large scale livery business with room for nearly 100 horses and two show rings.

However, work is now underway to open a purpose-built farm shop on the site which will sell the high quality meats that Mr and Mrs Broadhead are rearing on their farm to the public.

With a city the size of Leeds on their doorstep, the family will have a large market to aim at, pointing towards a bright future for the holding.

However, it was not always such a rosy picture at the farm, with the family having to fight hard to stay afloat not so long ago when prices for the pigs they were rearing plunged into negative territory. Mr Broadhead said: "My dad moved here in 1961. At that time it was 70 acres and he gradually built it up to the point where it was 220 acres. I took over the farm when his parents retired four years ago.

"We were fortunate enough to be able to buy part of the farm and still rent the rest."

Concentrating heavily on pigs and running around 200 sows, things were going well until low prices led the family to diversify.

"The money we were getting for pigs was absolutely horrendous," Mr Broadhead remembers of the difficult time, a period which saw many farmers forced out of production.

Mrs Broadhead worked as a full-time legal secretary while Mr Broadhead was a wagon driver as they developed an on-site livery for the farm, a move which proved invaluable. Spending their nights and weekends to erect the buildings they were able to build up the number of stables they had to 90.

Today, it is a thriving business with their 24-year-old daughter Nicola helping to run the on-site tack shop and several more people being employed from the local area.

Mrs Broadhead said it was this experience with the livery that inspired them to take the step of dealing more with the public.

Eventually, the pair began to build up the farming side of things again, gradually buying in a few pigs, sheep and cattle.

As experienced and well-respected farmers, Mr Broadhead is able to produce all the different animals his farm houses to a high standard, preferring to stock rare breeds and high quality animals.

Mrs Broadhead said: "We really want to have a situation where people can come on to the farm and see the animals that we rear and just see how things are done. Just being able to see what goes on will be a big bonus."

The farm participated in the Open Farm Sunday project last summer, with more than 300 people coming through the farm gates to be shown first hand by Mr and Mrs Broadhead the various breeds of animals, explaining to visitors how they eventually ended up on their dinner plates.

"We are fortunate to be where we are – there is no shortage of people," said Mrs Broadhead.

Today, the farm is home to a herd of Herefords and a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, as well as some Holstein bullocks. In total, the farm is home to 170 head of cattle and 20 sucklers, the ultimate objective being that the herd becomes closed with all of the animals being bred and reared on the farm.

In addition there are 200 pigs – 20 of which are sows of various rare breeds – as well as 100 laying hens and 50 sheep.

Another inspiration to move into the farm shop business came from a less than satisfactory visit Mr Broadhead paid to his local supermarket. After purchasing some steak he remembers being underwhelmed by the lack of taste and quality of the meat.

"I looked at it and there was a pool of red water, not blood, underneath it. I thought to myself 'we can produce something better than this'."

The move into the farm shop world came thanks to a loan which allowed them to complete the purchase of new buildings

The 200,000 cash injection from Nat West will help them sell meats through a new purpose-built shop on the farm site, with Mr and Mrs Broadhead hopeful that their other daughter, 22-year-old Samantha, will help run.

As well as meats, which they hope to produce using a specially hired on-site butcher, the Broadheads hope to sell free-range eggs, locally produced fruit and vegetables as well as jams, chutneys, biscuits and cakes.

Mr Broadhead said: "This is a great way for us to generate extra income from the farm. It helps us be more environmentally conscious too as there are no food miles involved in what we sell.

"Going forward we'd like to add a caf and play area to the site to encourage more people to visit us and we'll offer farm tours so children can learn about where their food has come from."

The family are currently pressing ahead with the work to build the new site, having endured like most farmers a challenging winter so far due to the freezing weather.

Pipes became frozen so that the farm had no running water for four days.

However, regular applications of grit to the farm's pathways and roads by Mr Broadhead meant that deliveries continued to flow in through its gates – another sign of the family's determination to succeed.

CW 15/1/11