Back in January, on a wet and miserable day, I had the pleasure of visiting Home Farm on The Goodwood Estate. Goodwood is committed to the care of the soil, using a traditional system that provides ideal conditions for increasing the natural flora and fauna across the Estate. The Home Farm is one of the largest lowland, mixed organic farms in the UK and has been supplying food to the Dukes of Richmond for the last 300 years. It achieved full organic status in 2004, although the concept that the Estate could be farmed organically originated in the 1950s, very much as a result of input from the present Duchess of Richmond who ran her kitchen garden on organic principles and was one of the first members of The Soil Association.
Home Farm is set at the heart of the 12,000 acre Sussex estate at the foot of the South Downs. Between the hustle and bustle of festivals, horse racing and motor sport Tim Hassel, general manager and farmer, gets on quietly with his work. Tim has farming running in his blood; born and bred in Sheffield he grew up next to a small farm and spent most of his childhood there. At the tender age of 16 Tim left home determined to become a farmer himself. He has worked on various mixed-use farms, from Blagdon Estate in Newcastle to Laverstoke Park in Hampshire. After gaining experience at these and other locations Tim decided organic farming was the way forward, so seeking an opportunity to work at Goodwood was a natural progression for him. His efforts were rewarded in 2015 when he won the Farmer’s Weekly ‘Farm Manager of the Year’ Award for his pioneering approach at Home Farm.
Driving around the estate you can see the attention to detail which goes into the farming – a trait I think everyone has come to expect from Goodwood. There’s no mass production here, just high welfare care for the animals – this is ‘slow farming’ allowing the animals to grow naturally. Sussex Red cattle and native South Downs lamb, which graze well on the chalky ground of the South Downs, are found alongside Gloucester Old Spots and Saddlebacks pigs, which are crossed with the Large White breed of boar.
It seemed quite strange driving past Goodwood House, home to Dukes of Richmond & Lennox for over 300 years, without hearing the rumbling noise of race car engines and cheering from the crowds. Quiet and subdued at this time of year, this was Goodwood in its natural state. As we drove up the hill climb course, Tim pointed out that the start line was made of bricks, imported from the world famous Indianapolis speedway! They don’t do things by half here…
Next we meet Master butcher John Hearn; he joined the team 3 years ago to start the in-house butchery on the estate. John is a larger than life character and very passionate about his job. He has travelled the world using his skills, but feels most at home at Goodwood where he is able to fulfil his childhood dreams of running a traditional butchery that values the welfare of the animals and puts every cut of meat to good use. The butchery is run with the same care that is used on the farm and I felt certain John knew exactly where each piece of meat had come from. He is a fountain of knowledge, and is always trying to develop new products like Goodwood’s own charcuterie, which he’s still trying to perfect. Now I know why the bacon we serve in the Blue Bell gets such rave reviews – it has its own room in the butchery where each joint of pork for the bacon is cured individually; John uses an organic cure that is the same one he has been using ever since qualifying as a butcher. Each day he attends to it and only when he’s completely happy with it does it get cut, nice and thick just like the old days!
There’s something special going on at Goodwood, a place that captured my imagination from a young age. I have always been a horseracing fanatic, being brought up around them the thrill of watching them race has always been a passion, so I realise how fortunate we are to have a world class racecourse estate on our door step, but behind the glitz and glamour, this amazing estate is helping the environment with its traditional and organic farming techniques, turning out award-winning produce which is such a pleasure for us chefs to work with. For the past 10 years we at the Blue Bell have been proud to be using dairy and bacon from Goodwood, but based on insight I’ve gained I hope to be increasing the produce we buy from Home Farm – and this will also be assisted by the transformation the wholesale business has gone through over the last couple of years.