Roger and Penny Webber of Hindon Organic Farm, Exmoor
"Organic principles gave us back our pride in farming; they protect the soil, the animals and us for the future. Profit at any cost is not sustainable, but we all profit from organic."
Roger and Penny are third generation National Trust tenant farmers, farming mixed livestock on their 500 acre organic hill farm within the Exmoor National Park. The farm is managed by their son-in-law and they employ a butcher and several part-time staff. They process and market their own meat through their small farm shop, farmers’ markets and nationwide mail order (‘From the Moor to your Door’).
The farm also offers open days and farm walks, and B&B and self-catering accommodation, which has been featured in Country Living magazine and on TV, and has won several awards.
Roger and Penny won the ‘Organic producer of the year’ award at the Organic Food Awards in 2003. Their meat has won several other awards including Taste of the West and the National Trust’s Fine Farm Produce Award. The farm won a Beautiful Farm Award in 2010 and has been recommended by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and featured as a ‘Food Hero’ by Rick Stein.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
We went organic in 1998 following our instincts and helped by the Organic Farming Scheme. We wanted to have control of our end product, which led to marketing and having our own farm shop with mail order and delivery - we just went for it. The result is Exmoor Organic Meat. We produce our own organic, free range Gloucester Old Spot pork, including Exmoor ham, dry cured bacon and home made sausages, as well as hill farm lamb and Aberdeen Angus beef - well hung, of course!
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Absolutely frantic! Between us both we: feed and check on the animals; provide breakfast for our guests; do farming (e.g. lambing, fencing, moving stock, testing cattle, mucking out, etc); walk the dogs and occasionally ride the horse over the farm; sort stock to take to the abattoir; answer phone calls and emails regarding meat orders, accommodation enquiries and forthcoming events; load up chill display unit and chill boxes of our meat produce for the farmers’ market; go to the farmers’ market from 8.30am to 3.30pm and then back to make more sausages because we’ve sold out; co-ordinate with our butcher on orders; pack extra produce before going to check the farm animals; answer more phone calls; check on the cottage guests; tidy and clean equipment; feed the dogs and ourselves; shut in ducks and chickens... and then to bed… Then the phone rings with someone seeking accommodation for next week or with a message that the cattle have got out onto the cliffs...
Who are your customers and where are they?
We sell to local people at the West Somerset farmers’ market in Minehead every Friday and they also buy from our small farm shop, as do the holiday visitors who stay with us. We attend many food fairs and the slow food market in Bristol. Our national customers use our mail order service.
Organic principles – why do they matter?
Organic principles gave us back our pride in farming; they protect the soil, the animals and us for the future. Profit at any cost is not sustainable, but we all profit from organic.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
There is no body more important to us as farmers.
What is your greatest achievement?
So far – winning the Soil Association ‘Organic Producer of the Year’ award.
How do you plan to progress in the future? What is your vision?
To keep farming organically, caring for our Exmoor hill farm and animals, keeping happy and healthy and having fun.
If you were starting all over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing - there’s no point in having regrets. Going organic and marketing our produce ourselves was the best thing we ever did.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Follow your heart and keep to your principles.
Who or what's your biggest inspiration?
HRH Prince Charles – he is an organic hero.
What is the key to your success?
Enthusiasm, hard work and a believing in what we are doing.
What do you love most about what you do?
We love where we live and what we do; we have a great deal of job satisfaction with farming and supplying our produce.
What keeps you awake at night?
Bills, the weather, and lambing / calving.
What single thing would most improve your life?
Any unusual hobbies or past careers?
Not unusual hobbies – golf, horse riding, yoga, walking, shooting, gardening, and a once in a lifetime marathon in New York 5 years ago.
How can the organic market be improved?
Get all other non-organic enforcement bodies to recognise organic standards. Have supermarkets with local regional organic section in stores. Financial support from government for all organic farmers new and existing, especially in less favored areas. Encourage youth into organic farming – we need more young farmers.
How can we get more people to buy organic?
Education, education, education. Start with schools and inform people of the benefits in every way. Have more organic food available from Britain.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
Going organic saved us this farm. Organic farming is the right way to care for our countryside, our animals and us.
What other organic ventures do you admire and why?
Baby Organix – it was started by a woman with vision and now we all benefit.
Supermarkets – good or bad?
Good for organic availability, though some better than others. Bad for farmers and growers as they keep prices unrealistically low, insist on ridiculous conformity and push out smaller individual shops.
What is the biggest threat to what you do?
Loss of financial support of rural payments, diseases and extreme hot weather being a south facing farm.
What's the best thing about organic farms?
Healthy soil, healthy animals and a sustainable future.
What's the best thing about organic food?
Great taste - that is better for us and for the countryside.
What is your favourite meal?
Our roast organic Aberdeen Angus beef and all the trimmings.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
Have told George Bush to sign the Kyoto treaty, keep supporting organic farmers, and value those who care for the countryside.
The world would be a better place if...
All farming was done organically.
I'd like to be remembered for...
Going for it! Organically, of course.
When were you happiest?
I am happy now.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing our farm.
What is your favourite word?
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
Organic food and beauty hamper.
Is the customer always right?
No but we let them think they are.
To find out more about Hindon Organic Farm visit www.hindonfarm.com and www.exmoororganicmeat.co.uk.