Re­gional & Sea­sonal: Ess­ing­ton Farm

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - ▯ Words: Sarah Ryan ▯ Pho­tog­ra­phy: Richard Faulks Ess­ing­ton Farm, Bognop Road, Ess­ing­ton, Wolver­hamp­ton WV11 2AZ. Tel 01902 735724­s­ing­ton­

Rosy, plump straw­ber­ries dan­gle over the edge of a long row of ta­bles, ready to be plucked from their stalks. Some are not quite ready, their pale yel­low-green skin show­ing only the faintest blush. Aisles of long, soft grass run be­tween the ta­bles, where peo­ple browse, pun­nets looped over their arms, and chil­dren duck be­neath the high ta­bles to find the juici­est fruits. In the neigh­bour­ing fields, goose­ber­ries, black­cur­rants and veg­eta­bles such as cab­bages are also ready to be picked. This is Ess­ing­ton Farm, in ru­ral Stafford­shire, where six gen­er­a­tions of the Simkin fam­ily have lived and farmed, and con­tinue to do so.

As well as of­fer­ing pick-your-own fruit and veg­eta­bles, the farm rears its own free-range pigs, a cross be­tween Lan­drace and Duroc breeds, and just down the lane, a herd of pedi­gree Here­ford cat­tle browses in a grassy field. Richard Simkin has lived and worked in or near the farm for his en­tire life. He points to an old pho­to­graph hang­ing on the wall of the café beside the farm shop. “This is my great-grand­fa­ther, who came to Ess­ing­ton from Ec­cle­shall in North Stafford­shire,” he ex­plains. “He would milk cows and take the milk around the vil­lage on a horse and cart. He’d la­dle it out of a churn and sell milk at the

door. We have an ad­ver­tis­ing bill say­ing ‘es­tab­lished 1892’, so we can say with some de­gree of cer­tainty that we’ve been re­tail­ing farm pro­duce from this farm since then.”

Other pho­to­graphs show his own son and grand­chil­dren. The fam­ily his­tory of the farm is ev­i­dent to any­one com­ing to visit. The shop which sells pro­duce from the farm sup­ple­mented by other lo­cal goods, such as honey, lamb and wine from a lo­cal vine­yard, is as busy as the fields out­side.

The same pro­duce is also used at the café, where sim­ple meals, desserts and cakes are care­fully put to­gether in the ad­join­ing kitchen. Straw­ber­ries picked that morn­ing fill home-made tarts and are teamed with rasp­ber­ries in a sum­mer crum­ble, driz­zled with cus­tard.

“The main ethos is the same as it was when my great­grand­fa­ther was sell­ing milk,” says Richard. “It’s sell­ing lo­cal pro­duce to lo­cal peo­ple. If you’re buy­ing some­thing that was pro­duced on this farm, whether it’s straw­ber­ries or sausages or a pump­kin, you know ex­actly where it has come from and ex­actly what has gone into it.”

The ham hock salad, pork pie and hot sausage rolls on the menu are all made us­ing pork from pigs that have been born and

raised on the farm. The meat is cut and pre­pared at the butch­ery on-site, and the pas­try is hand­made. It is a point of pride. “See­ing the se­quence from start to fin­ish is sat­is­fy­ing. We like to think of our­selves as a ‘one link’ food chain,” says Richard.

It is not just the food that makes Ess­ing­ton spe­cial though. They also have a strong con­nec­tion to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. “A lot of cus­tomers, par­tic­u­larly the all-year-round ones, know us by name,” he says. “And we know them by name too. We some­times get asked to so­cial events, and we sup­port the lo­cal church, and the lo­cal school; that sort of thing.”

The throngs of peo­ple work­ing their way up and down the aisles of strawberry plants are tes­ta­ment to their suc­cess. It is not un­usual for ev­ery ripe fruit to be snaf­fled up by the end of the week­end. But the plants are al­ways ripen­ing, and it does not take long be­fore they are ready to be har­vested yet again.

“I al­ways say that one thing you will never die of here is bore­dom,” says Richard.

“We never know what each day holds in store and what the weather is go­ing to bring. But I en­joy watch­ing the whole process from start to fin­ish and see­ing a sat­is­fied cus­tomer leave at the end of the day.”

At a fam­ily farm in Stafford­shire, fruit and veg­eta­bles can be freshly gath­ered or en­joyed in a home-cooked meal

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