The family farm
Tom Flint sets off to a farm just north of Brighton to meet one family keen to cut out the middle man when it comes to buying meat.
Devil’s Dyke is a spot of outstanding natural beauty and one of the most diverse grasslands in the UK, bursting with rare species of wild flowers, grasses and wildlife.
With such an abundance of riches it is easy to see why so many people visit the Dyke area each year.
There are, however, some people who have made this area their home.
I donned my wellies and woke up at a rather unsocial hour to pay Camilla and Roly a visit at Saddlescombe farm to talk about what this area means to them and get a feel for life on the farm.
Two years ago, after a rigorous selection process, the couple realised a lifelong dream to run their own family farm – and what a farm to have chosen.
The farm is owned by the National Trust due to its historical significance and environmental
importance; but with a ten-year lease the family have plenty of time to make it their own.
“They decided they wanted a family to live here and have it as their home,” Roly tells me. “It used to be owned by a local college, but for them it was always just an additional piece of land.
“We are a family farm and we produce meat, but we also look after the environment while producing the meat,” he continues.
Having transported their flock down from Oxfordshire, the sheep adapted very quickly to the change in scenery, and Roly describes how the family are now firmly a part of the local community.
“The locals are amazing, there is a lady called Amanda who is often out there with her Jack Russells and quite often she will text me to say there is a lamb stuck in some brambles, or there is a cow who is just about to calf.
“I view them as an asset to the farm rather than a burden as they are your eyes and ears.”
With the flock rehomed and the family settled in, they have been reintroducing Sussex cattle as part of a larger plan to develop both the business and preserve the ecological balance.
“We are not after world domination in terms of taking on much more land, we want to do the best job for our animals,” Roly explains.
“We try to run a holistic approach, it is important that we have the sheep and cows as that mixed stocking supports the environment. We grow a small amount of crops, but we’ve shrunk that.
“This is a livestock farm and we’ve got a lot of species on rich chalk downland that needs to be preserved through grazing,” he says.
With a dual focus on both preserving the environment and running a successful farm, Camilla and Roly have an approach that is admirable.
In order to share this with the community they actively encourage people to come and experience Saddlescombe farm in all its glory.
The other reason is so they can help people better understand where their meat comes from and the environment that supports its production.
“What I hate is most people’s first experience of food is having to go to a supermarket and you are faced with aisles and aisles of offers – what a horrible way to start a meal,” says Roly.
“The most important part of the day when many families sit down together should start off with the South Downs; the landscape; the animals, maybe go to the farm to pick up your meat.
“Suddenly food becomes far more of a central part of the day.
“What we want people to buy into and appreciate is that, okay it is not convenient coming here, but you are getting something far more than just a bit of meat that you can get at the supermarket.
“What you are getting is quality, something that has an amazing taste, but you are also buying into and supporting the landscape and everything that goes on here at Saddlescombe.
“Our big aim for the future is to sell more meat, directly to the local community and to restaurants in the area.”
And buying your meat direct from the farm is also much more cost effective than you would think.
If you have the freezer space, you can buy an entire lamb that has been broken down into different cuts for £150 on their website.
“I added up all the individual cuts and had you bought them at a supermarket or butchers, that would have cost over £200,” Roly tells me.
If the thought of buying a whole lamb is not for you they also have smaller boxes and sell individual cuts of both lamb and beef.
I had a wonderful and misty morning whizzing around the farm on the back of Roly’s quad bike while clinging on to sheepdog Belle for support.
We took a tour of the 450 acres, checking on the cattle and a calf that had been born the previous afternoon.
We also fed the pregnant ewes in scenes reminiscent of a zombie movie, but with sheep emerging from the mist in place of the ghouls.
It really was a fantastic experience and the calm of the downs at that time in the morning was glorious.
If you would like to experience a day on the farm you can do so by booking a ‘Shepherd for the Day’ experience through the website.
If that is not for you then keep an eye out for the regular farm open days.
Lambing season is the best time to visit, but the historic farm buildings and the beautiful surroundings make it a fantasatic place any time of year.
Most important of all, remember to get in touch to purchase some Sussex lamb or beef direct from the source and support your local farm and the environment.
Visit www.camillaandroly.co.uk/saddlescombe-farm for more details