Home Farm takes the lead

September 19, 2019

Diversification is a hot topic in the world of agriculture and for one farm in the Yorkshire Dales has resulted in a radical shift in how the public can access their products.

Home Farm, in Aysgarth, not only processes its own milk and sells direct to the consumer through a unique mobile vending unit, but has also begun to make its own raw milk cheese.

Thanks to the Yorkshire Dales LEADER Programme and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund, the farm has been able to move away from a traditional method of milk production to a self-contained system which is enabling the Spence Family to invest in the future.

The Yorkshire Dales LEADER Programme has distributed £2.8 million for rural projects benefiting the area and the communities – with more than £130,000 being accessed by Home Farm.

Ben Spence (pictured left) from Home Farm says: “LEADER and the Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund has helped fund our milk vending machine and raw milk cheese making enterprise as well as general farm welfare, including brushes for the cows and new beds. It has helped us take control of our own product and invest back in the farm.

“Originally, we sold our milk direct to a processor but we wanted to do that ourselves. We put up a new shed and people thought we were mad doing so when the milk price was so low. But we were investing in the farm and trying to get a more appropriate price for what we were producing.

“The milk vending machine allows us to go direct to the consumer and make a profit on what we are selling. It has been like adding 40 more cows to our existing operation. LEADER helped fund that project and we’re really grateful to it. A number of people said we shouldn’t apply as we wouldn’t have got a lot from it, but it was really worthwhile.”

As with most farms across the Dales, Home Farm is a real family affair.

Ben is part of four generations of Spence’s working there, alongside his wife Sam, two small children, brother Adam and parents David and Susan.

Everyone was involved in building the new shed that houses a new milking parlour as well as raw milk processing and cheese making facilities – a project that took around two years to complete.

Cheese making has begun in the last few months and the plan is to launch it to the public towards Christmas.

“It’s thanks to David Hartley and his team at Wensleydale Creamery that we’ve come this far,” Ben adds. “We had to speak to them to make sure they would be ok with us processing our own milk, because we are a supplier of theirs, and then we got talking about cheese.

“It seemed like a good idea and after a lot of research and advice, we were able to build a new extension onto the shed and put in a better processing room to make raw milk cheese properly.

“We couldn’t have done that without the funding from LEADER or the help and advice from David at Wensleydale Creamery.”

Ben’s plan is to sell the cheese through the creamery and via the mobile vending machine. Home Farm will also highlight the process on its expanding social media platforms too – a real ‘farm to fork’ operation.

Ben continues: “The move to locally produced food is something that is really important in the current climate. We want to offer our products direct from the farm gate but also be really opaque too with how we do things. We portray that on our social media.

“It’s exciting to think about the future and the investment we have made. We’re really looking forward to selling our cheese and seeing what people think.

“Funding has helped us move this project along and it is hoped that over the next 12 to 18 months we will all be able to live on the farm.

“We’re local dales farmers striving to live and work in the Dales and hopefully employ some people in the future too.”

People are invited to visit Home Farm during the third annual Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival taking place over a fortnight, starting with a weekend festival at the Wensleydale Creamery on 14 September.

The Spence family will also be holding a free open afternoon at Home Farm on Thoralby Road from 1-4pm on Saturday 21 September.

Yorkshire Dales LEADER

LEADER is a community-led rural development programme which aims to improve the quality of life and prosperity in rural communities through locally driven rural development initiatives and projects. The LEADER approach, an important constituent of the European Union’s Rural Development policy, is aimed at encouraging capacity building (developing the ability of local people to participate in the future development of their area) and using local initiative to improve the development potential of rural areas.