#NFDF2014 days out in Norfolk – Part 1: pork pies, popcorn and potatoes

One of the many lovely things about being a Norfolk Food & Drink Festival Champion is it gives me a great excuse to get out and see a bit more of our wonderful county (not that excuses are really needed). The following is a quick review of just some of the trips I have enjoyed recently. Perhaps they will inspire you to seek out some of the delicious food and drink made by local producers – do let me know by posting a comment at the end.

Sunday 6 July – Samphire open day

Regular readers will already know that I am partial to good pork pies and sausages. Some of the finest I’ve tasted are made by Karen and Jeff Nethercott from free range pigs reared on their smallholding in Pristow Green Lane. This is just 20 minutes from us in South Norfolk (15 minutes if the pies are hot out of the oven) – so when we heard they were having an open day we hurried along.

The day started cold and damp but thankfully the drizzle stopped shortly after we arrived and by midday the sun was almost out. About a dozen local artisan producers had braved the weather to set up food, drink and craft stalls in the garden – and all were more than happy to chat about their work (although having tried the potter’s wheel, I think I will stick to writing for a living). We treated ourselves to some pies and sausages, naturally, as well as a jar of excellent Jubberwacky Chutney, a couple of bottles of Humpty Dumpty Ale and a slice of chocolate brownie (to share).

We couldn’t stay for the music in the afternoon (Monday copy deadlines were looming) but before leaving we enjoyed a tour of the smallholding with Karen as our knowledgeable guide. As well as rare breed pigs and sheep, Karen has a beautifully tended vegetable garden, a small orchard with various heritage variety fruit trees and a scattering of chickens and ducks. This might sound like the good life but I am sure it also takes a lot of extremely hard work to maintain.

The pigs and sheep produce exceptionally tasty meat: partly because they are free range and partly because they are so well looked after, as evidenced by the RSPCA naming Samphire as a finalist in its Good Business Awards 2012. If you want to try some of Karen’s delicious food, you can buy online or from their stall at one of the half-dozen markets they go to. You will also find the pies served in local pubs and farm shops – just ask Karen on twitter for your nearest supplier.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Monday 7 July – A missed opportunity and fresh discoveries

You may remember how in early July I visited Crisp Malting, in the pretty village of Great Ryburgh. On leaving I noticed a sign for the village shop and post office saying it was ‘owned by the community’. Intrigued, I popped in and asked for more info. There were three people working in the shop and they all turned out to be both residents and ‘shareholders’ in what is a Community Interest Company.

The company was set up in 2008/9 after the pub, school, shop and post office had all closed in the space of a few months. It is now a successful social enterprise and – I am pleased to report – a keen supporter of local food and drink producers. From what I could gather, the villagers are justifiably proud of their achievement, which just goes to show what a community can do when it pulls together.

I didn’t buy anything, other than a bottle of water, because it was a hot day and I had no way of keeping food fresh until I got home. This was a shame because I found out later that the shop stocks David and Julie Smith’s famed Perfick Pork sausages, which are made in the village. I also passed the Perfick Pork shop as I drove out of the village but (being a Monday) it was closed – so I may have to order some treats online.

Monday 7 July – Popcorn time

Driving back down the A1067 to Norwich I was reminded of another local foodie success story when I saw Algy’s Farm Shop. It’s worth reading Algy Garrod’s story on the website to understand his passion for making Norfolk Popcorn and supporting local producers – do pop into the shop, if you are passing Bintree, it really is lovely. Charlie Hodson, who is now Executive Chef at The Great Hospital in Norwich and a fellow Food & Drink Festival Champion, calls Algy one of his ‘food heroes’ and I can see why.

Monday 7 July – Perfect Potatoes

That same Monday, I had to drive over to Lammas (errands and all that), so I took the opportunity to say hello to Tim Briscoe who runs the Buxton Potato Company. Tim’s family farm is only a few hundred acres but he has big ambitions. A few years ago he realised that simply selling his potatoes to wholesalers and processors meant he was missing out on the opportunity to add value to his product.

He decided to start supplying local stores direct and to offer temperature controlled potato storage to other growers in the area. This all required some pretty substantial investment in high-tech bits of equipment (including solar panels to reduce his carbon footprint) as well as branding for his packaging – but it’s paying off. He now stores around 5,000 tonnes; washing, grading and packing up to 1000 tonnes for local supermarkets and shops and selling the rest to national chains via the Greenvale Co-op.

Earlier this year the East of England Co-op named the Buxton Potato Company as one of the three finalists for its East of England producer of the year award (out of 130 entrants) and winner of the Norfolk heat. Look out for the Buxton Potato bags if you are shopping in North-East Norfolk.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Other local delights

On Tuesday 8 July I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Stone (known to many of you as TypeJunky) who, aside from being a talented designer, is an ace photographer and walking encyclopaedia of local history. If you haven’t read Nick’s Invisible Works blog – take a look now, it’s fascinating. We took the opportunity to try out the new Little Red Roaster on St Andrew’s Hill and, as expected, the coffee and flapjack were delicious.

That Saturday (13 July) we drove out to Foxley Wood for a fun and fascinating morning studying ‘Mighty Mini- Beasts’ with Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It’s a beautiful setting and only lacks one essential – a decent place to stop for coffee (do tell me if you know of one nearby). However, that gave us a good excuse to stop in at the wonderful Dozen Artisan Bakery on the way for fresh croissants to enjoy mid-morning – and excellent sourdough bread for sandwiches when we got home mid-afternoon.

Dozen Bakery

Dozen Bakery

There you have it – a roundup of just some of the places we’ve visited recently and some of the excellent local food and drink we’ve enjoyed. Part 2 of this blog will look at some Norfolk visitor attractions which, while not being food focused, did not entirely disappoint on the refreshments front. Hope you enjoy both parts – do feel free to leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

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About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

#NFDF2014 blog: Can @GeorgeMoateLtd’s Norfolk engineered #Tillerstar help deliver #Sustainable farming?

“It offers major savings, without compromising on the quality of the [seed] bed.” That’s the verdict of just one of the many farmers now using the new George Moate Tillerstar to prepare their fields for planting crops such as potatoes, onions, leeks and carrots. The farmer, Sam Patterson, who grows 145 hectares of potatoes in Lancashire, went on to tell Arable Farming magazine that by removing the need for a de-stoner “we’ve saved at least £245/ha from our establishment costs.”

Norfolk’s thriving engineering sector

Don’t let anyone tell you that engineering in this country is finished. Even here in Norfolk, which many people wrongly think of as a sleepy backwater where everyone is a farmer or retired, we have a thriving engineering and manufacturing sector. As World Class Norfolk reports, there are some 1,000 engineering firms in the county, employing around 10,000 highly skilled people (around 5% of the workforce) and supplying global companies such as Boeing, Airbus, NASA, Toyota and Lockheed.

One of these successful companies is George Moate Limited, run by Lesley Pratt and her husband Richard. It makes the award winning Tillerstar, which is helping to revolutionise the planting of vegetables and root crops. And when I say ‘make’, I don’t mean ‘assemble using imported components’: I mean it manufactures virtually every single part in its factory on the edge of North Walsham – so is an ideal subject for an #NFDF2014 blog.

3BedTillerstar_HIAM_2

The roots of a new agricultural revolution

George Moate, a Yorkshire farmer and inventor, was the firm’s founder. Over the years he’d developed various bits of agricultural machinery, including bringing the first hydraulic folding tilling machine to market. Then, in 2011, he exhibited a prototype Tillerstar at the Harrogate Show and suddenly the enquiries started pouring in – leaving George with a hard choice: stick to farming (which he loved) or run a full-scale engineering business; he chose farming.

Lesley, an experienced business woman who’d been looking for a new venture after taking time out to raise a family, bought the patents and set about developing the business. This included making 23 major engineering changes to George’s original designs. She also bought back eight prototype machines and had them upgraded to match the new specifications: “We didn’t want any machines out there with the George Moate brand that didn’t meet our standards,” she explains.

Lesley’s partner (in life and business), Richard, already owned a successful engineering company called PSS Steering & Hydraulics, also based in North Walsham. PSS specialises in manufacturing, designing and re-manufacturing parts for heavy duty vehicles and machines made by the likes of Land Rover, John Deere, and JCB. With a 70 strong team of designers, engineers and machinists, it is ideally equipped to make most of the components for the Tillerstar.

What makes the Tillerstar different?

As Lesley explained to me, there has been a quiet revolution in potato farming over the last 30 years or so. When I helped with potato harvesting, during my summer holidays in the early 80s, we had to pick out the stones and clods as the potatoes were carried up the conveyor belt to the trailer. Then farmers introduced new machinery to de-stone fields before planting, by sifting the stones and dumping them in deep-ploughed trenches running alongside the planting ridges.

While this means harvesters now lift far fewer stones with the potatoes, it creates two major problems for potato farmers and agriculture in general. The first is that the stones have to be ploughed up at the end of each season and re-scattered, before other crops can grow successfully. The second is that, over time, all this deep ploughing degrades the soil structure and reduces fertility, which means farmers then have to use more expensive fertilisers to maintain yields.

Deep ploughing, trench digging, and re-scattering is also labour and machine intensive, costing a lot in terms of time and fuel. The beauty of the Tillerstar’s innovative design is it lifts and sieves the soil, and forms the planting bed all in one go, without needing a separate trench for the stones. By reducing the number of ‘passes’ the tractors make, it saves money (one farmer in Ireland estimates he is saving £50 a hectare in fuel alone) and reduces soil compaction.

Tillerstar

The Tillerstar gets its name from the four horizontal, rotating star rollers fitted behind the cultivator (see illustration above). The cultivator lifts the soil and throws it back onto the rotating stars. These then throw the heavy stones and clods forward into the bottom of the newly dug bed before letting the finer soil fall through behind to cover them.

The integral bed former, which the operator can change to suit soil conditions and produce the desired finish, then mounds up the earth ready for planting. As such, the Tillerstar only has to turn 6-7 inches of soil to create a bed that’s 12-14 inches deep – which further helps save fuel and reduce soil degradation. While scattering the heavy material in an even layer across the bottom of the bed not only improves drainage but also removes the need for re-scattering at the end of the season.

Winning awards and exporting globally

Despite only being launched three years ago, the Tillerstar has already won a string of awards. These include: The Innovation Award from the British Carrot Growers’ Association in 2012; a Gold Medal at the Royal Norfolk Show in 2013 for Best Commercial New Machine; an Award of Merit in the Best New Product or Innovation (Mechanical) category at LAMMA 2014. The machine is now being used successfully across virtually every main soil type in the UK and has satisfied customers in Ireland, Norway, Poland, Russia, and New Zealand (with new enquiries coming from Africa, the Middle East and America).

Meanwhile, a team from Cambridge University (led by Dr Mark Stalham) has been using Tillerstars in field trials aimed at helping potato farmers improve yields and reduce soil degradation. The long term results aren’t in yet but preliminary reports indicate “no reduction in yield”, even when planting “substantially shallower than a traditional 30-35cm.” As Lesley points out: “While the research is important, we already know we are doing something right because innovative and entrepreneurial farmers (including Guy Poskitt, who was Farmer of the Year in 2012) are willing to invest in our machines.”

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

Join the conversation

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply. Look out for my other blogs about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 (see my earlier post about being an #NFDF2014 Champion) – and stories from around the county – I hope you enjoy them.

Thank you for reading.

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