Local, not Yokel
PUBLISHED: 10:57 05 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
Malcolm Twigg takes a look at how farming ought to be with Helen Browning,ne of the pioneers of orgnic farming in Wiltshire and a stalwart of the organic farming community.
I once knew the secretary of a horticultural society whose name was Mr. Flower, but you can stretch a name and trade association only so far. In Helen Browning's case - although meat certainly benefits from the gravy that goes with it - it's probably stretched as far as it can go, but if it's organic meat which savours your dinner table, then Helen is your woman because she is the doyenne of organic farming in Wiltshire. Trading as Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat, Helen is one of the earliest and biggest organic producers in Wiltshire. She began organic farming in 1986, fuelled by her alarm at what intensive farming systems were doing to the health and welfare of farm animals and how the resultant stress was passed on in the quality of the meat. There were few markets for organic products around at the time and she actually had to create her own, but innovation in farming has always been the Browning style. Five years later there was sufficient demand to enable her to start working with other farmers, encouraging them to produce high quality organic livestock and the rest, so far as the organic market is concerned in Wiltshire, is a success story par excellence.
Certainly, for Helen Browning, it has been a remarkable story of continual expansion and innovation. Eastbrook farm may not be the biggest in Wiltshire but there are a lot of facets. Today the Eastbrook stable includes the farm itself; the organic meat supply arm (EFOM) including the Helen Browning brand of packed organic meat for the supermarket trade and home delivery; the Flying Pig - a mobile catering arm dealing exclusively in organic produce and served at Blue Chip events; and, the latest addition to the empire, The Royal Oak pub/restaurant in Bishopstone which is rapidly gaining as exclusive a reputation for its food in situ as the Flying Pig has on the move.
Helen's family has run Eastbrook Farm since 1950 when, for those of us who can remember it, the days were perpetually sunny, all was right with the world and, to all intents and purposes, nothing much had changed in agriculture except mechanisation. Techonology and modern farming and marketing practices apart, Eastbrook Farm operates much more in accord with what farmers of those halcyon days would recognise, although nowadays you would class it as more local than yokel. All livestock are free ranging (although cattle enjoy the warmth of straw-filled barns during the winter); pigs live in family groups with free access to clover rich pastures and are allowed to follow their natural instincts, being fed on an organic diet supplemented with a natural menu of grubs, worms and soil.
To say that organic farming is Helen Browning's life would be to understate it. As well as taking Eastbrook Farm to the pinnacle of success, she is also the Soil Association's Food and Farming Director and represents the organic lobby on all manner of august bodies. To cap it all - and quite rightly so - she was awarded the OBE in 1998 for her services to organic farming.
Helen pioneered organic pig farming in Wiltshire in the 1980s and the first organic veal system in the UK 12 years ago, seeking to popularise the delicacy and improve the often negative image of the product. "The typical male dairy calf will never turn itself into a great beef animal, but good farming will produce superb meat from these livestock at a younger age. Veal is to cattle what lamb is to sheep," Helen said, "and they live for up to eight months in idyllic surroundings." Veal is becoming increasingly popular with customers, and chefs across the country are actively seeking to promote the dish. Helen's brand of organic rose veal is now sold through Tesco.
There's no doubt that there is an increasing demand for organic meat, and that, in Wiltshire at least, it could well be down to Helen Browning.
For further information www.helenbrowningorganics.co.uk
Helen Browning's organic Veal Chops
Recipe by Jasper Ackroyd, chef, 'Helen Browning at the Royal Oak' pub and restaurant
Tel: 01793 790481
These cook very simply and quickly. It is hard work trying not to overcook them, but the bone helps to protect them, and adds flavour.
Gather the smaller tips from young, green and tender nettles;
Season the chops with some softened butter and black and pink peppercorns (but not salt yet);
Leave them in a covered bowl to reach room temperature, and toss in the nettle leaves;
Get a heavy pan medium-hot;
Sparingly salt the veal and place it gently into the pan. Nettles crisp beautifully and have a nice lemony note. In contrast, you can also include a few slices of apple which will be soft and sweet and buttery on top of the nettled chops;
Brown each side, including the bone, and remove from the pan to rest for just a minute;
Serve simply, perhaps with a little mash.
Chopped onions that have had wine added and simmered until the wine is gone and the onions are soft can go into the pan with a little cream to give a simple but delicious sauce.
Salad is recommended to lift all that buttery, creamy goodness and to ease the conscience!