THE VISION: TO MAKE ‘FARM TO FORK' A REALITY
All too often I’d enjoyed a lovely meal out, but couldn’t help but wonder where exactly my food had come from. It concerned me that I had no idea of the origin, the lifestyle or indeed the quality of the meat that I was putting into my body.
The more I thought about this, the more it bugged me and that’s when my restaurant dream started to take shape. A restaurant with its own livestock, so that customers can follow the journey of their meat from birth, right through to the plate they are eating it from, to ensure they are only eating the finest local products.
This dream has finally become a reality with Ben’s.
However, please don’t mistake my inspiration for a ‘whim.’ It has been a long and passion filled road that has lead me to this point. In fact, it all began with a box of sweets and an entrepreneurial spirit in middle school. As I grew up, this drive gained direction as I formed a keen interest in animals, and whilst studying for a university degree in Zoology, I set up my own micro-chipping company for small animals. This, alongside helping my mother with her smallholding during the holidays just wasn’t enough for me, and my passion for business and livestock gained momentum.
Although my passion was growing increasing quickly, I still had the small matter of a degree to finance first, so I took to the table as a waiter. Since the age of 14 I have worked in pubs and restaurants and during university I continued to do this, gaining plenty of experience and expertise along the way. This understanding of the restaurant industry has fuelled my desire to create something different. Something special.
Whilst gaining valuable experience of my future trade, I continued to dream big once I had finished my university degree. However, I knew that I needed to start small and my help at the smallholding grew until I took over the majority of care and upkeep of the animals. That included taking on alpacas, Jacob sheep, Kunekune pigs and poultry. I was keen to develop it into a business and knowing that my home reared meat was more flavoursome than any supermarket meat I’d experienced, I set about selling it to friends and family. This soon expanded throughout the village and into the local area. However, when I attempted to sell my high quality and well-reviewed meat to local businesses, the sad truth was that the cost was far more than what retailers would pay from larger suppliers further afield.
And this takes us to now. What should you do if you can’t get high quality meat that’s raised in a good environment direct to consumer’s plates in existing restaurants? Set up your own and create a dining experience that customers enjoy time and time again.
Our farm began in Ixworth, which remains our base and home to the rare breed pigs, among other animals. The breed we have selected to rear, is the Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB), a traditional breed dating back 200-300 years. This breed was on the brink of extinction in 1985, and although numbers have been steadily increasing, it is still a registered rare breed today. By using rare breed meat, we increase the demand for breeding sows and boars, thus increasing the registered numbers of OSB pigs. They are a hardy, yet docile breed who thrive outdoors, and provide excellent pork. Our pigs are born in outdoor sheds, weaned naturally and reared outside in groups for their whole lives.
We also breed Jacob sheep, which currently graze in Norton and Ixworth. Jacob sheep are believed to be the oldest breed, being mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Genesis. They are a hardy long-lived breed of sheep which produce a flavoursome and lean meat.
As well as producing pork and lamb, we keep a variety of poultry and waterfowl, including quail, chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese. Chickens and geese are kept to produce eggs for sale at the farm gate. The quail were introduced to the farm mid 2016 to produce eggs for our starter menu, as were a variety of ducks, including Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner and Muscovy.