Luke Hasell of The Story Group in Compton Martin, near Bristol
"We became organic in 2004 because organic farming is the future of agriculture and therefore was an easy decision for me to make."
The Story Group was established in 2005 by Luke Hasell and Jim Twine when they both inherited their neighbouring family farms. The farms cover an area of 550 acres around the Chew Valley and they breed north and south Devon suckler herds. The aim was to provide great tasting, fresh organic produce direct to the consumer. In 2010, poultry experts Bill and Emma Yeats, of Lowerstock Farm, joined The Story Group. They have developed their own breed of chicken called the Bishops Vale which is sold exclusively through The Story Group.
In 2008, Luke and Jim, along with Phil Haughton of The Better Food Company, established The Community Farm on 50 acres of prime agricultural growing land. The aim of the farm is to provide a direct link between the production and consumption of food. In November 2010, the Community Farm launched their community share offer, inviting members of the public to invest in the farm. As of February 2011, the scheme has raised over £100K from more than 260 investors.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
I have been farming for the past seven years following the death of both my parents. I left a busy London life building supermarkets and distribution centres to come home and run the family farm. We became organic in 2004 because organic farming is the future of agriculture and therefore was an easy decision for me to make. I started The Story Group box scheme in 2005 in an attempt to sell more of the farm’s produce direct to the consumer.
In 2008 we established The Community Farm, a project that is very close to my heart and one that I am determined to make a success. The future of food and farming is an exciting prospect and if we can involve the community and enable them to buy fresh organic produce whilst being directly linked to the place in which it grows, then the next generations may grow up respecting these issues far more than we do now.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Cows first, wife second, sorry - got that one the wrong way round. Then I move onto my hectic but enjoyable life of running an organic beef farm, a community farm, The Story Group box scheme, a catering, weddings and events company and a property development business.
Organic principles: why do they matter?
Because the principles, one day, will help people understand that industrialised agriculture is not sustainable or healthy and that the world will be a better place with an organic way of life.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
An organisation that is way ahead of its peers and does great things to protect and promote the future farms that will shape our landscape and the food that enables healthy living.
What is your greatest achievement?
Taking over the farm in the most challenging of circumstances and getting on with life, although the only goals in life I have actually completed are several marathons that I have run, which is probably my greatest personal achievement so far.
What’s your vision for the future?
For people to be able to shake the hand that feeds them. To have a model of farming that is unique in that it involves the wider community, connecting people with the farmers, countryside, wildlife and the food which they put on their plate.
How can the organic market be improved?
To be more all inclusive, for people to truly understand what organic means and perhaps encourage supermarkets to have a section directly linked to local, organic produce and to have marketing which explains in simple terms why organic is the future.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To never take life for granted and live life to the full.
What would you have done differently?
Nothing, my only regret is not telling my Dad I loved him.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
What other organic ventures do you admire – and why?
Yeo Valley, our neighbouring farm who has been tremendously successful in delivering a great product that is good for you.
What is the biggest threat to what you do?
Single farm payments and supermarkets with their crazy 2-4-1 offers and cheap food.
What's the main benefit of being organic for you?
Knowing that the system is better for the animals and the steaks are better for us.
What is the key to your success?
Being a workaholic.
What keeps you awake at night?
Only crying babies, including bawling cattle when I have removed the calves from their mothers.
Any unusual hobbies or past careers?
Ironically building giant supermarkets and being at the beck and call of Tesco’s directors and project managers. They never understood the concept of shutting the shop for a few hours or having some rest on a Sunday.
Supermarkets - good or bad?
Good and bad, great convenience for buying everything you could possibly want but have destroyed the word ‘local shop’ and annoyed everyone further by creating express stores. Give us back our veg man, fish van and butcher any day of the week.
What is your favourite meal?
Surf and turf - can’t beat a fillet steak or a king size prawn, mmm.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
…put money into community projects empowering people and enabling them to feel part of a community that is proud to offer services that would otherwise be lost.
The world would be a better place if...
…the next or younger generation start to care more about the world in which they live, about their health and therefore what they eat and where it has come from.
What would be your 'Desert Island' luxury?
My wife and then my laptop.
Find out more about The Story Group at www.thestorygroup.co.uk, and the Community Farm at www.thecommunityfarm.co.uk.