Cattle farmers and butchers create super-local food chain
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A Norfolk cattle farm has teamed up with a neighbouring butcher to create a super-local food chain which is helping promote their sustainable "farm-to-fork" story to consumers.
Paula and Clive Bidmead run the Rockland Herefords herd at Rockland St Peter, where a breeding herd of mainly pedigree Hereford cattle graze on 200 acres of grassland, rented from six different landlords.
After a chance meeting at the last Royal Norfolk Show they struck up a partnership with Tony Perkins, who runs the butchers' shop on Church Street in nearby Attleborough.
Now the shop sells meat from cattle reared a maximum of five miles away, and slaughtered at the nearest abattoir at HG Blake in Felthorpe.
And the butchers themselves have become key messengers to tell this story of low food miles and high animal welfare directly to customers who are becoming increasingly concerned about food quality, traceability and the environment.
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Earlier this month, a dozen of Mr Perkins' butchers visited the farm to learn about the animals, their environment and how they are cared for.
Mrs Bidmead said: "The point of showing them round was so the butchers could go away very confident that they know how the animals were produced, and how we look after them. Then they can go back and help the customers make that link to where their food comes from, which is extremely important.
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"Beef gets a lot of bad press about its carbon footprint, but our carbon footprint is as small as you can make it. Our meat is travelling the absolute minimum distance possible, because we use the nearest abattoir, and our nearest butcher."
Mr Bidmead said the partnership meant he got a premium price for his product, and the ability to get valuable feedback from the customer.
"I can go and see every single animal hanging up in the shop, and I try a bit of meat from every single animal, because it is important to me that the tenderness and flavour is all there," he said. "Without doing that I won't know anything, and the feedback from Tony is very good.
"We are both working together to push the shop, because we need to work together to be successful.
"I find it quite frustrating that there are an awful lot of other butchers who don't take on board what Tony is doing - if they don't care where their meat comes from, they are missing a trick. They might as well just be a supermarket, as far as I'm concerned.
"There are plenty of good farmers around here supplying everything you can ask for.
"It is not rocket science, what we are doing. We are producing a good product, and doing it well, and we need people to listen to that, as well as all the other bad things that you hear about farming. More people can do it, they just need to put the effort into educating people."
Mr Perkins said it was a "no-brainer" to use the most local suppliers possible.
"It cuts down mileage, we know about the animal welfare as well, and to get a farmer that is actually interested in the end product is great from my point of view," he said.
"It is something that all our butchers can tell people now because they have all come to see the animals in the field. There are good qualified butchers among them, but also some 'newbies' who have never set foot in a field of animals before, and I daresay they were a bit frightened to start with. But it was important."
Mr Perkins' son Jamie, who manages the Attleborough shop, said he had noticed a much greater awareness of provenance and food quality among his customers in recent months.
"For us, animal welfare is a daily topic," he said. "Everybody is so much more aware of it now. So when we can tell people we visit the farms regularly and we know the breeds and how they are treated, we can reassure them and they are a lot happier about knowing the traceability.
"If you can reassure people that produce is well looked after and is a good quality product they can be so much happier about using it and consuming it."