Regional & Seasonal: Essington Farm
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