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
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