Gazegill Farm and the Bowland family farming organically for generations
PUBLISHED: 16:57 14 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:08 20 February 2013
This Bowland family shuns technology to farm their land. They do it organically just as their family has done for five centuries. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Ian OReilly and partner Emma Robinson live by one mantra. It is the one that has permeated every generation of their family during their 500 years at Gazegill Organic Farm in Rimington.
Ian said: Look after nature and it will look after you. Its a simple rule to live by but we see it working. As the current custodians of the land, our responsibility to continue farming in a sustainable and nature-led way is very important.
Instead of introducing new technologies, Emma and Ian have stuck steadfastly to using organic farming techniques on their 280 acres. They rear rare breed animals including Old English Shorthorns, which produce a milk high in butterfat and Omega 3, Hampshire Down sheep, whose diet of natural herbs and flowers in the meadows provide deliciously sweet meat and extremely rare Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. The family has their own butchery on site and are about to start their own milk producing facility too.
Parts of Gazegill Farm are classified as biological heritage sites with traditional hay meadows abundant in wild flowers, herbs and grasses. This provides a natural habitat for many birds and other wildlife.
Youll find no chemicals at Gazegill, unless in the form of medication deemed absolutely necessary. But in many cases the animals self-medicate, using herbs in the meadows. It is this organic way of farming which they believe benefits the animals they keep as well as safeguarding their future.
Emma said: The farming industry has become too reliant on new technologies, chemicals and pesticides and one day agriculture will just stop working. But we wont because we dont operate in that way.
The taste we get from the pigs is rarely found in todays world of intensively reared animals. Our milk is naturally high in Omega 3 and the health benefits from it are fantastic. Some supermarket milk may contain antibiotic residue, from when the animals are filled full of medicine to protect them out in the fields. Organic milk wont have this. It means more hard work but its the way we want and need to do it.
The couple have the help of several family members on the farm including nephew Sam as well as their children Niamh, eight, three-year-old Isabel and one-year-old Oliver.
Emma and Ian have continued a legacy first established by Tony and Jean who, despite being retired, still work on the farm. In the 60s they started school visits but now there is a dedicated education centre on the farm. In the past 12 months 150 school groups have visited Gazegill Organics.
Ian said: We have got to reconnect children with food, not just because Jamie Oliver says so, but because we are so disconnected from where meat comes from. Everything is pre-packed.
Years ago in the butchers there would be carcasses hanging up. Children dont see it anymore. We show the children where the food comes from. Its not that long until they are out in the shops as consumers themselves. Its about having a conscience about where food comes from.
Continuing the family farm has meant sacrifice. There is little time for anything other than the work they do at Gazegill. And they love every minute of it.
Emma said: For us, its about the kids and keeping the farm at its best so we can pass it on to our children in a better condition than we got it, just like my parents did for us. Thats all that matters.
We have always believed that nature is never wrong. Farming organically produces healthier food from happier animals within a sound ecological system. We love our animals to bits, they are our extended family.
Ian and Emma are working to get veal and mutton back on British dinner tables. They produce both meats, including macon, which is a cured mutton, and free range pink veal.
Ian said: People are against veal. But what do you do? Do you shoot it when its born or does a farmer wait for nine weeks and then only get 100 for it at market? I like the third option of nurturing them for nine months, free range, letting them enjoy life feeding on grass and getting the sun on their backs.
We have had some animals that have gone on to beef because they are so good. Veal is a fantastic meat and free range pink veal is just amazing and rare.
Our mutton is fantastic too. Its a three-year-old full of flavour sheep. These traditional cuts, which make the most of a carcass, should be popular but unfortunately until you see it in a pack on a supermarket shelf it wont be. Hopefully we can help to change that.
Emma and Ian sell their meat at farmers markets as well as direct from their farm shop on a Saturday. You can also try it at The Red Pump at Bashall Eaves, near Clitheroe.