‘Many don’t know where food comes from’

ON THE FARM Mary Pike, her husband Stan and their son Tim. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (122000-2)
ON THE FARM Mary Pike, her husband Stan and their son Tim. 'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122000-2)

From broken bones to new beginnings

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There’s always been something quintessentially British about a rural dairy farm.

Tucked away in the picturesque countryside, there’s nothing like putting on your wellies and raincoat to watch the tractors roll by, as you trudge through the mud in the rain to pay the farmyard animals a visit.

BRANCHING OUT James Pike runs the new tearoom. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (122000-9)

BRANCHING OUT James Pike runs the new tearoom. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122000-9)

But as more people have moved away from the countryside to live in cities, farm life can feel like another world to some.

And there’s a real danger that many children – and adults – have lost touch with where the food they eat comes from.

A national event that is now trying to remedy that problem by allowing the public to see the working life of a farm is Open Farm Sunday.

Started in 2006, it encourages farmers to let people see their farms for free.

Northney Farm in Hayling Island is taking part this year and the family-run business will throw open its barn doors on Sunday.

Mary Pike is in charge of the farm and says: ‘People are generally very interested in what happens on a farm because they don’t know about it.

‘We have a lot of educational visits as well, which is very important.

‘A lot of children come from cities and don’t realise where their food comes from.’

Thanks to the changing nature of how we shop for food and prices going up, traditional farmers have had to diversify their product to stay afloat – and Mary’s farm is no different.

Last year they opened a tearoom for visitors and they are also branching out into making their own dairy based products, including ice cream.

Mary is pleased with the way things are going and adds: ‘We’re selling a lot of our own produce and food and we use our own milk and have beef burgers from our own farm.

‘We also have eggs coming from my brother’s farm as he has free range chickens now.’

Formerly a research mathematician, Mary took over the running of the farm with her brother Simon in June 1993, after their father died.

Mary and Simon spent their childhood there and have now split the farm in two – with Simon taking charge of the nearby Stoke Fruit Farm.

It’s a real family affair for Mary as her husband Stan and all three of their sons are also involved at Northney.

‘Stan is a retired teacher and he helps me now,’ says Mary.

‘We have two employees on the farm, a herdsman who milks the cows and we have a tractor driver who is involved with general maintenance.

‘My oldest son Tim is around and is involved with the farm and is going into milk processing and producing. My middle son Matthew designed our website and keeps it up to date with everything that is going on and our youngest, James, runs the tearoom.

‘It’s very much a family farm.’

But a worrying factor for the farm at the moment is the rising cost of milk.

Mary adds: ‘The cost of milk is a big issue at the moment. We’ve realised if we can sell our own ice cream and dairy products then that will help. We make around 750,000 litres of milk a year.

‘It’s definitely a challenge and it’s very difficult. A lot of dairy farmers across the area have gone out of business.’

And that’s why open days are more important than ever as it shows the general public exactly what happens on a working farm and offers a fun day out.

When Northney has opened its doors to the public in the past, up to 1,000 visitors have paid them a visit. Talking about what’s happening this Sunday, Mary adds: ‘People can see the calves and the milking parlour, up until before we start milking them. They can see what it’s actually like.

‘There’s also tractor and trailer rides going across to my brother’s farm to see his crops and chickens.

‘Children can have some of our ice cream and we have local beef burgers and sausages at the tearoom.’

Although the national Open Farm Day event has only been running since 2006, Northney has been holding open days for the last 10 years.

‘The open day is a very good public relations exercise,’ says Mary. ‘Before, half the people in the village would be involved with the farm and now people don’t realise where their food comes from.

‘We very much try to support local produce. It hasn’t come from half-way across the country. It’s important to get that through to people.’

For opening times and more information go to northneyfarm.com

OPEN FARMS

Open Farm Sunday is a national event that was originally set up in 2006 by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).

The day gives members of the public the opportunity to see how their local farm works, where their food comes from and how farmers care for the countryside.

In the first year, more than 300 farms opened their gates to visitors.

Since the event began more than 750,000 people have visited a farm on the day.

Other farms in the area that are involved this year include The Barn Farm at Hambledon, Westlands Farm in Shedfield, Southend Farm in Donnington, near Chichester, Chadler Farm in Sidlesham and Home Farm at the beautiful Goodwood Estate.

For more information on farms involved and opening times in your area go to farmsunday.org