In the first of a special two-part series on Lynne’s Organic Farm in Eridge we talk to its owner Jeremy Davis about his hands-on approach to pigs and chickens and what he thinks about the furore over free-range eggs
When Jeremy Davis wakes up in the morning he isn’t buzzed into the day by an aggressive alarm clock. He naturally stirs when daylight breaks sometime around dawn through the blind and curtain-free windows of his oak-framed eco home.
Instead of squeezing on to a packed commuter train or sitting in stress-inducing lines of traffic in order to get to work, Jeremy simply pulls on his muddy wellies and heads outside to his 40-acre farm where he is greeted by chickens clucking and pigs happily snorting as they forage around the surrounding picturesque Eridge countryside.
It’s clear that Jeremy is living the ‘Good Life’ – one that many of us can only dream about.
Yet Jeremy knew it was something he always wanted to do in life, so ten years ago he made his dream a reality by giving up his successful career in the City to embrace his love of farming. But unlike those who are born into it, Jeremy had to start from scratch.
“I don’t have that background, I didn’t have that knowledge,” he states as we wander around his small fruit orchard, checking that the black grease paint marks he has put on to the tree barks are doing their job of stopping any disease reaching the apples and plums.
“I haven’t grown up fixing tractors since I was three,” he reveals. “When I started I didn’t know one end of a tractor from another. But you learn and sometimes you learn more because you come from a background where you don’t know anything about it. It’s an advantage in a lot of ways.”
Jeremy says he’s not a traditional farmer in terms of his thinking either. “I don’t do things because it’s been done that way forever or because my dad or granddad did it like that.”
So why did he and his wife Lynne, who also works as a part-time clinical research analyst, choose to farm organically?
“I wanted our stuff to be different to what you buy in the shops,” Jeremy explains. “It’s fresher and there are no chemicals used. There is a massive difference between what we produce and what you buy commercially.”
Jeremy’s strong ecological and ethical principles have seen his farm accredited with Soil Association status since 2007 and are also reflected in the fact the farm is powered courtesy of wind turbines and solar panels.
He is happy to admit that they just ‘break even’ but the last thing he would consider is farming on a commercial basis to make money.
So instead of putting his 20 or so pedigree Saddleback pigs in a barn like most he lets them roam freely around the 16th-century ancient woodland that flanks the farm.
And instead of running a profitable poultry operation in a huge shed, he encourages the chickens he keeps to strut about in the fresh air on verdant patches of grass.
So what does he think of the current furore on whether you can class thousands of hens cooped up in cages with only a small amount of daylight as ‘free range’?
“There is a definition of free-range eggs but it is very loose,” he comments.
“The hens only have to be out to pasture. What that means is they could be in a huge barn – say 15,000 chickens – and if there’s a door at the end and it goes on to green stuff then that’s classed as ‘pasture’. Those near the door will be able to go out but those at the back will never do so.”
Jeremy’s flock couldn’t be in more different surroundings and certainly fit the proper definition of free range given their sizeable external accommodation.
“That’s why our eggs are a completely different colour,” Jeremy confirms. “The yolk is a much deeper yellow and the white is incredibly clear.
“The difference is marked and the reason for that is because the chickens are outside. They’re pecking away at the soil and producing a 60g egg every day.”
Jeremy and Lynne stamp each egg sold individually so its provenance can always be traced right back to them. He keeps the flock for approximately 18 months and their numbers vary depending on the seasons.
“Currently we’ve got 170,” he says. “But that varies over the course of the year. Last week we had nearly 260 chickens because we keep the old girls until the younger ones are in production. Then we rehome the older ones.”
In keeping with his hands on, micro-management approach, Jeremy sends all the ‘girls’ who are no longer able to lay as frequently to the charity Fresh Start For Hens. They are then able to offer the poultry to people who want to have a couple roaming around in their back garden so they can enjoy fresh, properly free-range eggs at home.
“We used to rehome them individually,” says Jeremy. “They can last until they’re nine or ten years old but they could keel over at any point which is why I always said ‘take a friend or two – don’t take just one’.
Would he ever consider giving his High Weald farm over to just eggs?
“No,” he replies. “If you’re going to do chickens then you’d have to have a lot bigger numbers and all of our fields would be given over to them with an electric fence and metal wire.”
This would obviously go against Jeremy’s farming ethos and take away from the fact you’re pretty much guaranteed eggs that have been freshly laid that day.
They, along with the organic bacon, fruit and vegetables the couple produce, are sold in their small farm shop – just next door to the stunning home Jeremy built on his land in 2009.
Unlike most typical farm shops it is a genuinely rustic one with sawdust on the floor and not
a hint of jaunty bunting or shelves filled with imported products.
“The vast majority of what we produce is sold in the farm shop,” explains Jeremy. “The chances are the spinach you’re buying was picked that morning at 10am and if you want to see the chickens or meet the pigs you can.”
This proves that the couple have achieved their goal of creating a smallholding which harvests and sells great tasting, properly organic foods – without a cramped chicken coop in sight.
Next week Jeremy tells the Times why he is so passionate about organic pig farming and how you can really taste the difference…
Lynne’s farm shop is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from midday until 4pm
For more information see: www.lynnesorganicfarm.org or visit Lynne’s Organic Farm, Limekiln Forest Road, Eridge TN3 9LQ