LIV­ING OFF THE LAND

In the heart of the Chilterns, the Blue Tin farm shop sells veg­eta­bles, eggs, pork and Dex­ter beef all care­fully grown and raised by one in­spir­ing cou­ple

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by anna jury pho­to­graphs by brent darby

In the heart of the Chilterns, the Blue Tin farm shop sells eggs, veg­eta­bles and meat all grown and raised by one in­spir­ing cou­ple

If you’ve ever spent your jour­ney to work dream­ing about what it would be like to leave the 9 to 5 be­hind, move to the coun­try and grow your own food, a visit to Jed and Emma Jack­son’s farm, out­side the vil­lage of Ips­den in Ox­ford­shire, would show you ex­actly how that life could look. Reached via coun­try lanes that cut through wood­land just be­gin­ning to show the rus­set shades of au­tumn, the first sign of the shop you’ll see is the fam­ily’s 17th-cen­tury farm­house hid­den among the trees. Ven­ture up its drive past a field of Glouces­ter Old Spot pigs nos­ing the ground, ears flop­ping over their eyes, and you’ll find geese and slen­der In­dian Run­ner ducks wad­dling in be­tween Emma’s care­fully tended veg­etable beds. Tucked be­hind th­ese is the neat farm shop, of­ten with Roo, the fam­ily’s springer spaniel and ‘res­i­dent meeter and greeter’, sprawled on the

deck and en­joy­ing the Septem­ber sun­shine. How­ever, men­tion to Emma that many would envy her bu­colic way of life and she seems gen­uinely sur­prised. “Re­ally? Do you think peo­ple would want to do this?” she says. Full of en­ergy and broad smiles, Emma is tes­ta­ment to the pos­i­tive ef­fects of ‘liv­ing the good life’. But hav­ing spent most of her twen­ties work­ing as a TV re­searcher in Lon­don, if it hadn’t been for a chance en­counter (and a piv­otal box of eggs), her life could eas­ily have been very dif­fer­ent. “I’d come back home to Gor­ing for Christ­mas when I bumped into Jed, who’d been a friend of mine for ever,” she says. “We ended up chat­ting in the pub. I was de­lib­er­at­ing whether to ap­ply for a dif­fer­ent role or take some time out to go trav­el­ling. Jed, who was work­ing as an agri­cul­tural con­trac­tor with his dad at the time, said he’d like to go trav­el­ling, too. So that was that. We weren’t even a cou­ple at the time – that hap­pened dur­ing the trip.”

When they re­turned in 2003, they moved into a mo­bile home on Jed’s par­ents’ tenant farm and be­gan plan­ning their next step. “Jed did say that he’d move to Lon­don with me, which was so sweet of him be­cause he would have hated it,” Emma says. Ul­ti­mately the de­ci­sion was made by a box of eggs. They were left over when Jed’s mum’s hens had a par­tic­u­larly good lay­ing week, and Emma and Jed put them out in a box with a sign say­ing ‘For Sale’ on the way to the pub for Sun­day lunch. “When we came back, af­ter quite a few post-lunch drinks, and saw they’d gone, we got re­ally ex­cited. It was then that Jed said, ‘We could open a farm shop!’”

The Blue Tin Farm Shop now sup­plies pro­duce to more than 15 lo­cal eater­ies as well as dozens of in­di­vid­u­als who come by each day to pick up joints and rash­ers from free-range an­i­mals they know have been raised only feet from the shop. Emma and Jed also col­lab­o­rate with other mem­bers of the thriv­ing lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity, stock­ing cheeses from Net­tlebed Cream­ery and bread from BB’S bak­ery. Green and Gor­geous (fea­tured in CL June 2017) pro­vided pota­toes be­fore they went ‘fully flo­ral’: “Rachel and Ash­ley are ac­tu­ally meant to be veg­e­tar­i­ans, but some­times in the depths of win­ter Ash­ley will dash into the shop and say, ‘It’s too cold; I just need some sausages!’”

It was th­ese sausages that ac­tu­ally marked the next step in the Blue Tin jour­ney. Hav­ing de­cided to stay in Ox­ford­shire, Jed and Emma bought ten Glouces­ter Old Spot pigs (Jed’s favourite an­i­mals) and rented a field to keep them in. “It was a lovely spot on the other side of the woods,” Emma says. “It

Peo­ple pick up lo­cal pro­duce and meat from an­i­mals raised only feet from the shop

sloped to the west, so we would sit out there and watch the sun go down. We even camped out there.” When the time came to dis­patch the pigs, they sim­ply asked friends if any­one would like the meat and were sur­prised when all of it was pre-ordered be­fore they even vis­ited the abat­toir. “It was a good thing, too, be­cause we hadn’t re­ally thought about where we’d store it all,” Emma says.

Fol­low­ing this suc­cess they bought some breed­ing sows, a boar and ten Dex­ter cows, a small-statured breed famed for its dark, flavour­some meat, which Jed de­vel­ops fur­ther by hang­ing it for 28 days be­fore sell­ing. Around this time the beau­ti­ful, if slightly di­lap­i­dated, cot­tage on the edge of Jed’s par­ents’ farm also came up for rent and the cou­ple jumped at the chance to take it, mov­ing in just af­ter the ar­rival of their first son Jake in 2006, who was fol­lowed by Johnny two years later. It also meant that they could fi­nally build a shop to sell their pro­duce from. “We opened it in De­cem­ber 2009, when the boys were three and ten months. In hind­sight we could maybe have waited a year – try­ing to hold onto a three-year-old while you wa­ter three dozen pigs can be tricky,” Emma says, laugh­ing.

As their stock grew, so did the de­mand along with their level of ex­pe­ri­ence. “Jed has worked on farms all his life and is bril­liant at rear­ing the an­i­mals, but I didn’t re­ally know what I was do­ing. It’s been a steep learn­ing curve. I think we were just lucky to start at a time when peo­ple were be­com­ing more aware of the prove­nance of their meat,” Emma con­tin­ues. “Even if the la­bel on a pack of sausages in the su­per­mar­ket makes them ap­pear high-wel­fare, you can look on the back and see that they’ve ac­tu­ally been made on an in­dus­trial estate in a city – I think peo­ple are get­ting tired of hav­ing the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Blue Tin cus­tomers en­joy the fact that they can see for them­selves what a lovely life the an­i­mals here have, al­though Emma ad­mits she’s re­lieved that Jed is in charge of look­ing af­ter them: “He takes them to the abat­toir, which is good be­cause I think I’d strug­gle.”

The shop has now been open and steadily grow­ing for eight years. Its name is a ref­er­ence both to its blue-grey cor­ru­gated-iron roof and the house the cou­ple saw out­side Dar­win dur­ing their trav­els, which in­spired the style: “It was the most beau­ti­fully un­usual place – we hoped then that one day we’d build some­thing like that and now we have.” In keep­ing with the Jack­sons’ per­pet­ual en­ergy, there are al­ways new plans afoot for the shop, the most long-stand­ing of which is to build another build­ing (with a blue tin roof nat­u­rally) where walk­ers, cy­clists en­joy­ing the Na­tional Cy­cle Route that passes the farm, and other lovers of the coun­try­side can come for sus­te­nance and en­joy the spec­tac­u­lar views over the Chilterns.

“We could have called our­selves some­thing more ob­vi­ous like Ips­den Pigs,” Emma says, rub­bing a sow be­hind the ears. “The name Blue Tin is quite un­usual, but then again so are we.”

To find out more about the shop and sign up to the news­let­ter for up­dates, visit bluet­inpro­duce.co.uk.

Johnny checks the free-range-eggs hon­esty box

Emma picks green beans for the shop in the kitchen gar­den. As well as their own pro­duce, the cou­ple sell a good se­lec­tion of food, from chut­neys to cake, mostly sourced from within five miles of the farm, along with home­ware and books. Jake has also been in­dus­tri­ous, set­ting up his own ma­nure busi­ness

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