As a former vegetarian it might seem surprising that Katie Pearse spends her days selling fillet steaks and legs of lamb. ‘I was a vegetarian in my teens,’ Katie confirms, ‘it makes a difference to the philosophy behind what I sell – it has got to be right’.
But she is happy to admit that chaos reigns on the Dartmoor farm where she lives with husband Graham and their two sons. ‘The children dig holes for the pigs and fill them with water so they can wallow,’ Katie explains, ‘the sheep are always breaking free and getting chased by the dogs.’ But chaos at Waye Farm, Ashburton is organised chaos. The native rare breed sheep, cows and pigs roaming around the fields are fed with cereals grown on the farm. We have high welfare standards and our animals lead low stress lives,’ says Katie, adding that the animals never spend more than thirty minutes in transit.
The Marbled Meat Co was set up by the Pearses about three years ago; they personally deliver meat to their customers and run a nationwide mail order service. ‘We’re a small farm and we don’t want to be bullied by supermarkets,’ Katie confirms, ‘Traditional marbled meat with just the right amount of fat gives it a great flavour and texture. We are proud to be selling a traditional wholesome product.’ The products are Tamworth pigs, Downland lambs, and Ruby Red cows. Orange coloured Tamworth pigs are on the rare breed list. ‘It is important to keep the rare breeds going,’ Katie maintains. ‘If we didn’t eat them we wouldn’t need them.’ At present the farm is an organic conversion but by next September it will be 100 per cent organic. ‘It is not difficult to practice organic standards,’ says Katie, ‘they are very close to traditional farming methods.’ Over the last few days the Pearses have been storing 600 hay bales, ready for the cows and sheep over the winter. Soon the cereals will ripen, used to feed and bed the animals when it gets cold.
Katie and Graham might be new to publicity but they are not new to farming. ‘Graham has farmed all his life,’ Katie explains. ‘And his family ran a local butchers. He is a typical farmer, at school he was already breeding pigs and selling them. ‘The Marbled Meat Co started simply because Katie, originally from Cambridgeshire, would bring meat to her friends and family when she returned home. ‘The demand quickly outgrew us,’ she says, ‘news spread through word of mouth and suddenly we were getting so many phone calls that someone recommended we focus on a business.’ But Katie is keen to point out that at the end of the day they are farmers. Full stop.
All the animals are reared extensively outdoors and Jacob (12) and James (the pig hole diggers) also enjoy a life of fresh air and open space. But the farming experience, according to Katie, can be lonely and isolating with winters that go on and on. ‘When the lambs start being born you think everything’s going to get better but it is such hard work,’ she says, ‘It can be quite bleak.’ Graham gets up and feeds the animals at five and comes in for his own breakfast later in the morning. Meanwhile Katie takes the children to school and arranges meat orders as well as helping with the chickens, lambs and pigs. Graham’s parents are still very much part of the farm, running a holidays letting business.
But Waye Farm does not bring in the capital the Pearse’s need to run their family. ‘It’s difficult with a small farm,’ Katie admits, ‘There is a lack of subsidies. But in a way I think subsidies can be wrong. It is up to us to smarten up and diversify.’ At the end of the working day Graham and Katie sit down and think of new strategies. ‘I think the slow food movement’s emphasis on quality and pride in production is exciting,’ she says, ‘You don’t really know where things come from in the supermarket. We let our customers come and see our animals – we give them the chance to have a bit of our farm.’
As a small producer, Katie and Graham are able to cater to the needs of individual clients. Meat packages designed for barbeques, freezer filling and roasts can all be arranged. Home made cider and apple juice are produced on the farm from the small orchard and soon chickens and turkeys will be joining the Pearse’s menagerie. ‘It’s our next project,’ says Katie, ‘We hope to have chickens by the end of the summer and possibly turkeys for this Christmas.’ If people buy from us and greengrocers, they will rarely need go to the supermarket.’ And as the business expands, Graham is learning new skills. ‘He is currently studying butchery,’ says Katie, ‘And actually cutting and packing the meat himself under the expert gaze of Uncle Henry, Auntie Margaret and cousin Tom – it is a complete family business.’
Meat is sold to order and also comes in four standard boxes; Apple Blossom (small), Sweet Chestnut (medium) and the freezer filling Mighty Oak (large). A barbeque box contains a selection of sausages, burgers, ribs and steaks. New customers can benefit from a 10% discount.
For more information email Katie and Graham on firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0)1364 654507. www.marbledmeat.co.uk.