Essex farm shops: 5 of the best foodie finds
PUBLISHED: 11:00 03 April 2018 | UPDATED: 11:49 03 April 2018
Essex is home to a goldmine of excellent farm shops, as local farmers and producers diversify to bring the freshest, local fayre direct to customers. Stephanie Mackentye unearths 5 fabulous finds
Wigley Bush Lane, South Weald, CM14 5QP
French’s Farm is completely committed to respecting the countryside with green farming. This ethos has given Malcolm Knox and his wife Kim a sustainable farm strong enough to thrive for many years to come. The completely organic 165-acre farm was formed in 1984, using no herbicides or pesticides, and their herd is fed organic feed with no growth promoters or hormones added.
Malcolm explains: ‘I started in 1984, originally to feed my family quality meat. Once it got busier, I gave up my business as a jeweller and it has been life changing. I’m a first generation farmer and I love it with a passion.’
Malcolm’s family were butchers in the East End of London. ‘That’s how I knew the meat we were getting previously was inferior,’ adds Malcolm. The couple now raise their own herd of Aberdeen Angus, Shorthorn and Hereford, all home bred and organically fed, and they even grow their own hay. Malcolm continues: ‘We only sell meat which is reared on our own farm or supplied by producers that are personally known to us. We only accept standards as high as those we have here on the farm.’
You can visit the shop on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8.30am.
Greenstead Green, Halstead, CO9 1QY
Sarah Cockley has worked with Greenstead Farm Shop for the past nine months, spreading the word about the shop and its restaurant.
‘It’s a great job as we do a lot of stuff here. We now have a bigger restaurant with homemade food, we also supply a huge range of locally-sourced Essex produce and we sell homemade ready meals, sausage rolls and quiches, plus plenty of fresh cheeses, hams and chutneys.’
The shop and restaurant opened five years ago and the restaurant has already been extended so that it can now cater for 50 people, whether for breakfast, lunch or afternoon teas. It is also open for dining one evening a month and this month it’s an American themed evening with the menu featuring children’s options too to accommodate families.
Greenstead Farm Shop is open seven-days-a-week selling meats, local bread, cakes, cheeses, deli goods, specialty oils, specialty teas, preserves and frozen goods, plus gifts and artworks from local artists.
Ongar Road, Brentwood, CM15 9HS
The McTurks have been farming at Calcott Hall for more than 35 years. Peter McTurk grew up on the 140-acre farm (equivalent to about 70 football pitches) with his three brothers. He left the family business to become a surveyor and then returned to the business eight years ago.
‘My parents encouraged all of us to go off into the world and experience new things, but it was always in the back of my mind that I would come back at some point. It was a hectic time as I got married and moved house in the same month.’
The family renovated an old Essex barn in 1983 and have gradually used more and more of it as the needs of the shop have grown. Peter is MD of the shop and Dan Hunt is the general manager. Peter’s brother, Stuart, also looks after the farm and the shop with David Neall head of farming and Peter’s father, Andrew, still working there too.
A 30-strong team of full and part-time staff work to keep the farm shop stocked and open six-days-a-week (closed on a Monday) offering a wide range of seasonal produce from the farm. In January it will be brussel sprouts, cabbages, beetroot, pumpkins, shallots and red onions, plus NS Risdon Butchery offering a quality butchery service there too. They have also recently opened the Barnyard Cafe where you can purchase breakfast or lunch between Tuesday and Saturday.
76 Lonsdale Road, Southend on Sea, SS2 4LR
Pippa Crane began her rustic farm shop three years ago with an ambition to bring fresh, seasonal, local fruit and vegetables to the people of Southend on Sea. Pippa explains: ‘It was three years ago, just two weeks before Christmas, when the snow came down and no one wanted to venture out too far, so it gave us a real boost and a great start to the shop opening.’
As well as the shop, Pippa also runs the Essex Herb Company and her own Veg Box round. Previously she was a wine specialist for Waitrose. ‘When I started the Veg Box scheme, initially I ran it from my own kitchen doing everything myself; the sourcing, the packing and the deliveries.’ Now she’s helped by a couple of friends. ‘I jokingly call us Mate-rose as they also come from the same background as me, ex-Waitrose. I needed premises as the business grew and I found a beautiful little shop with all the facilities I needed to run the shop and the Veg Box scheme. It’s built up gradually and it’s evolved with me and now I’ve just purchased a Morris Minor van to help us with the deliveries, which we do from the shop every Thursday. Now I also have a driver and so my job is to organise the rounds.’
Each week Pippa supplies over 30 boxes in the area, while also stocking the shop with local honey and free range eggs, naturally-grown English herb plants and wild flowers, artisan fine food products, quality cooking ingredients and quirky gift ideas.
‘The shop is open from 10am to 6pm, but closed on Wednesday’s and Sundays,’ adds Pippa. ‘That’s the fun side of the business as we get to meet the customers.’
Herons Farm, Colne Road, Coggeshall, CO6 1TQ
Howard Blackwell, the 2013 winner of the Essex Life Fine Food & Drink Food Hero award, is the fourth generation of Blackwells to run Herons Farm near Coggeshall. The farm shop also won Farm Shop of the Year at the Essex Life Fine Food & Drink Awards and is committed to providing produce which is locally sourced, with 90% of it coming from within a 20-mile radius of the farm. For many years it focused on farm fresh geese and turkeys for the Christmas market.
However, in 2004 the Rare Breed Meet Company was born to supply high quality, locally-produced meat with a full provenance back to its local source. The shop, which opened in spring 2008, has a good range of traditional hams and cooked meats, plus continental salami and chorizo and cheeses.
‘We do push the boundaries with our cheese to stock some firm favourites from across Europe as well as some great English cheeses,’ explains Howard. There are also local fruit and vegetables to choose from. ‘Our main supplier from Tolleshunt D’Arcy brings us the best, traditionally-grown, seasonal veg while our asparagus and soft fruit come from Aldham, Manningtree, Ardleigh, Sible Hedingham and Wickham. We also stock breads, pies, chutneys plus local wines and beers, and our free range chickens come from Saffron Walden, again to ensure great local quality.’
The shop is open seven-days-a-week from 8am (10am on a Sunday).