New Forest commoners open doors to 'bridge gap' between farmers and public
COMMONING farmers in Cadnam whose animals roam the Forest are opening their doors in an effort to bridge the gap between the food-producing community and general public.
Andrew and Sarah Parry-Norton run the Commoners Larder at Storm’s Farm, from where they pride themselves on providing very good quality meat from animals that have had the “best life possible” grazing on the open Forest.
A fourth-generation farmer and member of local food initiative the New Forest Marque, Andrew has a herd of Devon cows and sheep that are turned out during the summer months, pigs that hoover up the acorns during pannage season in the autumn, and ponies, chickens and ducks.
In a drive to educate the public about the commoning way of life and farming practices on a small family-run plot, the couple have launched tours of their site in Kewlake Lane.
“We will also take visitors out onto the commons to show them the plants and fauna of the New Forest,” said Andrew (52). “We will also give an explanation of the history and archaeology of the national park, before going back to our farm for a tour and a bacon roll.”
Andrew and Sarah are continually looking for ways to secure a viable future for their farm so their son William (10) can take over the reins when the time comes, and this includes finding new income streams.
As well as supplying meat to the Old Beams Inn pub at Ibsley, the Forest Foodie hampers, and various butchers in Winsor, Wimborne and Botley, Southampton, the Commoners Larder provides a doorstep delivery of breakfast, barbecue and roast dinner boxes to homes and campsites, including New Park in Brockenhurst, Paddock View in Copythorne and Green Pastures at Winsor.
“As well as our own meat we use sourdough and brioche buns form Doe & Sons Bakehouse in New Milton, eggs from our farm, and seasonal locally-produced vegetables like New Forest mushrooms, asparagus from Sopley Farm and tomatoes from the Isle of Wight,” said Andrew.
“We have a lot of positive feedback on the quality of our meat, and this comes down to the extensive, as opposed to intensive, way in which we farm. When the animals are out grazing the Forest they are ingesting a huge variety of herbs and grasses, which really comes through in the flavour of the meat.
“They are also on the move constantly, working their muscles, which again gives the meat much greater flavour.
“Giving the animals that freedom and allowing them to behave in a more natural way as a herd is also a welfare issue for us; people are often concerned about the treatment of animals and the environment, so the commoning side of what we do is important.”
It is not easy to make a living from farming on a small-scale, continues Andrew, but he and Sarah are determined to ensure the future of their way of life and continue the commoning tradition.
One way to do this is, he says, to “re-establish the trust between farmers and customers”.
“For years farmers have been their own worst enemies because they are reclusive, but we are extremely proud to be commoners and we want to invite people to come and look around and see what we do.
“We also want to remove that gap between people and animals – we have issues with dogs chasing animals, people getting between cows and their calves, and drivers going too fast and not giving animals a wide enough berth. This is because they don’t have a good understanding of animals.
“We want visitors to the Forest because they are a revenue for us, but we would always promote responsible tourism and want to be a part of that.”
Andrew also stressed the importance of having local abattoirs, saying it is a great shame that when his animals are “born and bred” in the New Forest they must then be transported an hour-and-a-half away to Farnborough – the closest abbatoir – at the end of their lives.
“We really need local abattoirs – we used to have one at Sway and another at Salisbury, but the smaller ones struggled to survive because of issues with red tape and regulations continually being imposed,” said Andrew.
“In an age when we need to be looking at carbon footprint and animal welfare, small local abattoirs need to be reopened and supported by a sensible approach to regulations and financial grants.
“The trend is now for local food, and we desperately need local abattoirs to meet this demand.”
To book a tour of the farm, which costs £20 per person (under-12s free), buy a food box or for more information about the Commoners Larder, visit thecommonerslarder.co.uk or call Andrew on 07979 017680.