Cutting supermarkets out of the food chain is one of Somerset Farm Direct’s main incentives. Along with ensuring suppliers and consumers get a fair deal, and hundreds of sheep, pigs and chickens across Somerset live a life of luxury. In 1999 Dan Wood, fresh from studying estate management, returned to his family’s Exmoor farm only to find it could not earn him a decent living – a situation not uncommon in rural Britain. But by establishing an online farm shop, the Wood family cut out the middle man and established an online market place for their products, from the fringes of Exmoor.
Today Dan runs the farm and his father David manages Somerset Farm Direct, an enterprise with more than 3,000 customers. A third of all orders are received via the internet: ‘The broadband man has just been here today,’ David Wood explained, ‘We’re finally getting broadband on Exmoor.’ And these days Somerset Farm Direct doesn’t just sell Dan’s lambs – chicken, pork, duck, and beef, reared on neighbouring farms is also available.
Dan rears about 1,200 lambs a year from a 740 ewe flock at the Woods’ Bittescombe farm in West Somerset. Hardy cross breeds are used – the ewes are North Country black face crossed with blue faced Leicester rams – two strong healthy breeds, and the rams are Suffolk and Texel. Dan only feeds natural, GM-free food and keeps the flock inside during the cold, bleak winter months. Pork, chicken and ducks come from free range farms and the beef is reared on three different farms near Taunton. About 100 turkeys and 40 geese are available at Christmas and all animals are locally slaughtered (no more than a 50 minute journey over 18 miles), and butchered into a variety of convenient cuts by local experts before being vacuum packed and labelled. Locally produced herbs and jellies are added to the boxes before they are collected by a local firm of couriers. ‘Our emphasis is very much on using local suppliers’ Mr Wood explained. ‘We’re not just one farm, we’re a little network.’
‘Our family has farmed sheep here on Exmoor for over 30 years,’ says Mr Wood senior. ‘We have always been passionate about rearing the best lamb and strongly believe the best meat is produced from animals that have been reared in a stress-free environment and fed wholesome, natural food.’ Mutton and lamb is hung for up to two weeks, which is why, according to Mr Wood, it has such a delicious flavour. ‘Dan sold some sheep to an abattoir,’ he said. ‘They were killed on Monday and sold in the Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Difference’ range just five days later and were up to 20% more expensive than our lamb.
‘If you buy from Somerset Farm Direct you ensure a greater percentage of the money you have paid has gone directly to the farmers that have produced the meat’. And by supporting local farming and traditional non-intensive methods, Mr Wood adds, farmers are not forced to increase stocking densities, and use artificial fertilisers to provide enough food, ensuring high quality meat and sustainable farming.
But whilst Somerset Farm Direct does not condone intensive farming methods, running the business is intensive hard work, particularly during lambing season, and Mr Wood would not recommend it to every farmer. ‘It takes a lot of work to do it,’ he explained. ‘The average farmer doesn’t have time to do this.’
Over the next few years David, Isobel and Dan Wood intend to expand Somerset Farm Direct even more. ‘I’m not going to rush about growing vines,’ Mr Wood admits, ‘But we’re definitely going to add to our product range.’ Quite what Somerset Farm Direct will supply next remains to be seen – the Wood family are keeping it secret.
Lamb recipes by Isobel Wood
for the rub
1 leg or shoulder of lamb
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary,
ground 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram or 1 dried
4 cloves garlic crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 sliced onions
4 bay leaves
cup of water
cup of brandy
Mix all of the ingredients for the rub together and then rub into lamb and set aside.
Heat oil in large oven proof casserole and add onions, cook 3 minutes add bay leaves, seasoning a cup of water and brandy. Place lamb on top, cover and put in simmering oven (250F) for 5 hours, turning every so often and if the liquid is low adding a bit more water and brandy. Serve cut into thick slices or chunks with the juices poured over. This wonderful dish should be served with a rich red wine.
Rack of Lamb with a Herb Crust
1 Rack of Lamb
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and Pepper
For the Herb crust
2 tbsp. fresh chopped Rosemary
2 tbsp. fresh chopped Thyme
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and Pepper
For the sauce
1 Clove of crushed Garlic
Half a cup of red wine
Half a cup of lamb stock
2 tsp. grainy mustard
Pre-heat the oven to 475 F. Season the rack of lamb all over. Put the olive oil in a heavy pan over a high heat, sear the rack, fat side down for two minutes. Then using tongs sear the top end of the rack for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and cover lamb with the herb crust mixture, which should be prepared by whizzing all ingredients in a food processor. Next cover the ends of the bones with foil, and place the rack in a roasting pan, and cook in the preheated oven for 15 minutes to cook.
Finally, prepare a sauce. Remove the cooked rack from the pan and allow to rest. Add the sauce ingredients to the pan juices.
For more information about Dorset Pastry, or to buy some of their products, visit www.somersetfarmdirect.co.uk.