Rapeseed oil from Standish Hall Farm
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 August 2017
Striking oil in Standish hasn't been easy for John and Clare Wignall. But it has given them a golden opportunity, as Emma Mayoh discovered.
When people drive down the lane it definitely gives them a wow effect,’ said John Wignall, farmer at Standish Hall Farm. ‘They can’t quite believe it. Or that it’s so rural being so close to Standish centre. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
‘I do love seeing people’s reactions. When I walk across the fields to work every morning I get that same feeling. It never wears off.’
What visitors to Standish Hall Farm don’t realise is that path wouldn’t even be there without John. The 34-year-old has almost single-handedly brought this nearly 600 acre farm back into use.
His brother Derek, who has a background in the food industry, bought the farm in 2011. It once was the home of Standish Hall, the family seat of the Standish family and has historical importance. But you wouldn’t have known it back then. It was a neglected, unloved looking site that had dilapidated, tumbling down agricultural buildings and was in much need of attention.
‘It had been tenanted and no-one had really been here for more than a year,’ said John. ‘It meant any issues just hadn’t been tackled. So that was left to us. It really wasn’t in the best condition and it was really quite overwhelming, especially the first time I saw it.’
Since taking the farm on with Derek, John has worked tirelessly getting the farm back in working order. He has restored old farm buildings to prevent them from being lost, done extensive work on the drainage of the land, as well as farming using sustainable methods. John’s wife, Clare, who joined the business full time last August, Derek and the occasional contractor have also helped with the work but the lion’s share has been down to John.
‘I suppose when I look back it is a bit crazy,’ said John. ‘It has been a lot of hard work but it’s something I have just done. And it’s not just down to me. We have a small but brilliant team here. I’ve had Clare and Derek and Sandra and Linda in the office who have given up their weekends if it’s been necessary.
‘I am proud of what’s been achieved. But I still can’t help focussing on what’s still left to do. It’s a big job and a big responsibility. But at the same time I’ve always wanted to farm. And this is a special place to do that.’
Although John is modest about his achievements, it is testament to his dedication to farming. He grew up on a small farm in Dalton with beef cattle and free-range chickens and he’d spend many evenings boxing up eggs with his dad. He has always worked on farms or been studying agriculture. Clare, who met John while studying at Myerscough College, has done similar. She grew up on a mixed livestock farm and worked on her family’s farm as a livestock specialist and assistant herdsperson.
As Standish Hall Farm started to come into working order, the couple began to think of ways they could work the land. That idea was to produce rapeseed oil. All of the oil seed rape is sown, grown, harvested and pressed into oil on site. There are no food miles during the production process. They use a single seed variety too, making the product purer and better quality.
The Wignall’s Yallo oil is cold-pressed – all the oil from the seeds is squeezed out and is naturally processed without heat or chemicals. This means the natural flavour is retained and none of the goodness is lost.
‘It’s an amazing crop,’ said John. ‘There might be times when we think it’s not going to work and then it flowers and it’s incredible.
‘We only use single seed too which makes for the best taste. People love it.’
They have also adopted sustainable farming methods to improve the oil even more. This includes using a minimum tillage soil conservation system where only the very minimum is done to the soil for successful crop rotation. The soil isn’t turned over or ploughed so there are more worms to improve the soil naturally. Their carbon footprint is also reduced because fewer machine hours working the land means less fuel is used.
When the oil is pressed from the seed there is a bi-product that’s made into pellets and sent to a local dairy, beef and sheep farm to feed the animals. They also collect rainwater, store it in large tanks and use it across the farm.
The oil, which is processed in 1,000 litre batches by Clare in a specialist unit on the family farm, is rich in omega 3 and has less than half the fat of olive oil. Like wine, flavours vary and each producer will have their own unique cold-pressed rapeseed oil thanks to different soils, weather and farming methods. Its health benefits have meant more people are turning to it for frying, roasting, as a dressing and in baking.
‘People love the cakes we make with the oil,’ said Clare. ‘They go mad for it. You use it in place of butter and this reduces the saturated fat content. It does work really well.
‘Bottling it up is definitely my role. Although I don’t see daylight for eight hours I do enjoy doing it. It’s a very slow, careful process but it’s great seeing it when it’s done.’
Their Wignall’s Yallo oils have already garnered a stellar reputation and they are sold in many farm shops and delis as well as used by top chefs including Mark Birchall at the much lauded Moor Hall and Paul Macnish, executive chef for Lord and Lady Derby’s estates, which includes Knowsley Hall. They have also launched a range of new infused rapeseed oils
‘Chefs absolutely love the oil which is a real pleasure to see,’ said Clare, 33. ‘Once they’ve tasted it, they want it. It means we must be doing a good job.
‘We’re focussed on the infused oils too, now. It’s taken a lot of trial and error and we’re really pleased with how they have turned out.’
The two are now focussed on building a farming business that will reduce chemical use and reduce their carbon footprint as well as continuing to produce their ‘little bottles of sunshine’.
Sustainable farming is at the heart of what they do, as is their desire to be responsible guardians of Standish Hall Farm.
‘We’re the stewards of this wonderful farm,’ said John. ‘It’s up to us to ensure its future and make sure, when the time comes, we pass it on in a better condition than when we arrived here.
‘I think we’ve probably done that. This really is a wonderful place and the team all feel like family. I’m excited to see what the future brings.