Gazegill - the organic farming business in the Ribble Valley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 May 2017
Meet the Ribble Valley farmers whose traditional techniques give their organic farm a firm future. Emma Mayoh reports. Photography: Kirsty Thompson.
There are people passionate about what they do. And then there are Ian O’Reilly and Emma Robinson. Every waking moment of this farming couple’s life is spent dedicated to the land that has been a part of Emma’s family for over 500 years. The fact they’ve had just four days off in the past decade says it all.
What they have achieved in that time is remarkable. The couple, who have children Niamh, Izzy, and Oliver, took over the Rimington farm from Emma’s parents, Jean and Tony. Together, they have created an organic farming business that is known for its commitment to quality as well as dedication to the welfare of the animals and the land they look after. Their produce is also second to none.
It is their gentle approach that makes Gazegill Organics such a success, it’s an echo of how the family must have farmed here 500 years ago. As we walk around the farm, Emma knows each animal by name. The breeds are allowed the opportunity to grow naturally and spend their days out in the fields grazing. During the summer the cows are given free access to the pastures where they forage for different plants.
‘We have always believed that nature is never wrong and farming organically produces healthier food from happier animals within a sound ecological system,’ said Ian. ‘Happy, healthy animals make better food with a traditional flavour. We want to ensure that longevity. It is what they deserve. We love them to bits, they are our extended family.’
Instead of introducing new technologies, Emma and Ian have stuck steadfastly to using organic farming techniques. They rear rare breed animals including Old English Shorthorns, that produce milk high in butterfat and omega three. This is used to produce their popular raw milk from Emma’s Organic Dairy on site. The milk is sold through their online shop that ships the raw organic milk and organic meat nationwide.
They also rear rare Oxford Sandy and Black pigs – the pork they produce is full of flavour – as well as Hampshire Down sheep, whose diet of natural herbs and flowers in the meadows provide a sweet meat. They have their own farm shop and butchery on site and plan to extend this. They also support other local organic farms by buying at a pre-agreed price to make sure everyone gets a fair deal – sometimes a rare thing in the farming business.
You’ll find no chemicals at Gazegill and medication is only used when deemed absolutely necessary. But in many cases the animals self medicate, choosing to chew on medicinal herbs in the meadows that are also abundant with flowers, herbs and grasses providing a natural habitat for many birds and animals. Emma and Ian have also added a wind turbine and, along with solar panels and an air source heat pump, the farm is almost self-sufficient for its power needs. It is this organic way of farming that they believe benefits the animals they keep as well as safeguarding their own future.
‘There is no denying that organic can be a more difficult way of doing things,’ said Ian. ‘But it is something we feel is totally worth it. I think people are starting to cotton on more to organic and they want that more. People do take more interest in what food they buy these days.
‘But also large organisations are starting to promote this more. A UN report said that small scale organic farming was the only way to feed the world. That’s a massive thing. And something we totally agree with, of course.’
Emma and Ian’s nurturing approach stretches far beyond the land they look after and the animals they rear. The couple also host several education projects for school children – they host more than 250 school visits each year. A Community Interest Company, Care Farm, with Emma and Ian as board members, also has a base at the farm. This award winning organisation offers structured day activities for adults with learning difficulties. This can include growing organic herbs and edible flowers that are sold to help fund the project as well as used in Gazegill’s sausages.
Dementia sufferers, as an offshoot of this project, can also come and participate in group activities whilst their carer gets some respite time in a lovely shepherd’s hut on site that overlooks the farmland.
‘We’re hoping this can really help people,’ said Emma. ‘The activities aren’t just related to the farm. We had someone who loved classic cars and so we got some here for him to look at. He couldn’t stop talking about them. His relative said he hadn’t been that chatty in a long time.
Welsh Mountain Mules and Hampshire Downs
Butcher, Roger Hope in the farm shop
Oxford Sandy and Black piglet
Jimmy Horton in the bottling area in the dairy processing room
Izzy and Oliver with a Dairy Shorthorn calf
Oliver and Izzy preparing the hay for the Dairy Shorthorn calves
‘The shepherd’s hut means that carers get respite in not only a beautiful location but a place that’s free from all other distractions. It’s free for carers and we are looking to encourage a programme where GP’s can prescribe respite rather than anti-depressants.’
The new phase in this ever-eveolving enterprise is yet another expansion – a new café and restaurant. Located on a picturesque spot on their land with far reaching views over the Ribble Valley, the new dining venue will be a stunning example of what the couple have dubbed eco dining. For them, this means all of the food will come from the farm but building will also be environmentally sensitive.
They are currently in talks with leading figures in the county’s dining scene who they are hoping will create the food for the new venture.
‘We have had gastropubs for the past however many years,’ said Ian. ‘Now it’s time for eco-dining. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a little while. We’re hoping it would be about 110 covers. It’s a big thing for us.
‘But can you imagine being sat there, on a sunny morning enjoying fabulous coffee and food? I don’t think it comes better than that. It’s really exciting. I’d also love to make my own gin.
‘We are always busy. But that is just the way we work. We have been non stop for the past ten years and we’re now seeing the fruits of our labour. It’s wonderful.’
Join us for the celebrations
Emma and Ian were also the recipients of last year’s winner of a Lancashire Life Food and Drink Award in the Food Producer of the Year category. Ian said receiving the accolade catapulted their business onto another level.
‘It really did help us get out there and we definitely had more people wanting to find out about who we are’ said Ian. ‘It was a huge benefit for us. And one we’re very proud of.
‘On the night we couldn’t quite believe it. We were just pleased to have a night out as we don’t have any. Winning was quite a shock. A brilliant shock. It’s also lead to new leads for our business. We’re very proud of it.’
Tickets are now available for the event on Monday 16th October at The Mercure Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa for a fabulous evening of food and drink.
For further details please email Linda Chase at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are £75 each + vat. The price includes a drinks reception, a four-course dinner and wine.
Lancashire Life readers wishing to stay at The Dunkenhalgh Hotel on the evening of October 16th can take advantage of a preferred room rate of £80 bed and breakfast based on single occupancy and £90 bed and breakfast based on double occupancy. Please call 01254 303407 and quote ‘Lancashire Life Food and Drink Awards’.
For further info visit foodawards.lancashirelife.co.uk.