I’ve put off writing this post for ages. Not because I’m not immensely proud of the journey we have gone on, but because there is so much water under the bridge, I don’t know where to start!
As regular readers of the blog may have seen from the original ‘Our Journey Into The Good Life’ post, I grew up on the farm, as my Dad had before me. I loved every aspect of living on the farm and my parents had instilled a strong work ethic in us, and themselves worked very hard over very long hours. My 2 great aunts that lived on the farm were an amazing influence and inspiration. Born just after the turn of the century, they had seen so many changes in the world, yet they still lived their way; collecting fruit from the hedgerows, growing vegetables, making clothes and repairing clothes, bottling and jarring till their hearts were content. Reading everyday, staying active into their 90’s, being so proud of what they had seen women achieve in their lifetime, (they couldn’t believe girls now went for school for as long as boys, women were not only voting but we had a female prime minister), they really made me want to pass this lifestyle on to my children!
So I will pick up my story in the summer of 2005. I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed, 19 year old student of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (Anglia Polytechnic ‘in those days’) , having just finished my 2nd year at university. In the long summer break before starting my 3rd year, we thought it would be a cool idea to open a little shop on the farm. This was part of an experiment into farm diversification to see if we could potentially bring in enough income from this, that after my 3rd year at university had finished that the farm could support me coming to work there full time! So we put up a little wooden summerhouse shed, in the middle of our farm, with a bit of space for car parking out the front, and we had a shop. A very sparse shop, but a shop nonetheless! We sold in the shop eggs from our free range hens, potatoes that we grew on the farm, and some veg that we had planted in late spring/early summer in readiness for this venture into retail. We weren’t a grower of vegetables, this was new to us. We had an alarm so we could hear cars driving down to the car park and I would run to the shop when it went off, eager to serve the customers the best eggs, potatoes and vegetables around. We hardly had anything in the shop at all, it was quite pitiful looking back. But what we did have was amazing, and I was proud as punch of it! As we sold each bunch of carrots, I would scurry off to the field and pull another fresh bunch to replace it. I got the buzz and I was hooked! Mum and Dad amazingly said they would keep the shop open while I returned to university for my final year. We had never had actual retail customers down at the farm before, and it was quite exciting.
So after the hard work I’d put in on my summer break, I just had time for a girls holiday with my friend, also called Vicki, and then it was back off for my 3rd and final year. However, never one to stick to a plan, I happened to meet a nice red- haired chap whilst on holiday in Crete. He lived in Cambridge, where I was studying, and was working in a pub. This nice chap of course, turned out to be love of my life, and future husband, Ben! How life throws these curve balls at you?!
During my 3rd year, Ben spent a lot of time visiting the farm with me. He jumped into farm life with both feet. He even got into the early morning rises to watch a bit of cricket with my Dad before going out to tend to the animals. We had, over the course of the year, grown the shop to include a few lines for other local producers, and Mum and Dad had been on a course to learn sausage making, and we had started retailing our own home reared meat too. With Ben and I taking frequent trips back to the farm, our friends, acquaintances and even Ben’s pub customers were putting in orders to us, for shopping to bring back for them to Cambridge. We were starting to get a bit excited. ‘There could be something in this’, we would say to each other with youthful enthusiasm, ‘People in this city want this amazing stuff from the farm, maybe, just maybe, we should open a shop here, right in the middle of the city’.
Problem with me and Ben is, our crazy ideas soon turn into realities! Ben has a flair for retail and selling, and throws himself into anything he does. Within a year of meeting he had learnt how to look after animals, butcher meats, fit in with a farming family as an outsider and ‘townie’ (very tough order) and we were in the process of signing a lease at our first city store, on Victoria Road Cambridge.
Well guys, I’m sure you can pick up on the story from here! What an amazing 12 years it’s been though. We now have a different store on Victoria Avenue (after spending time on Chesterton rd inbetween). We still have a little store and all our production on the farm. Ben still runs the butchery, I still run the bakery. We have an online store (fancy that for a little girl from the farm?!). We produce more on our still working farm that ever before. We have an arsenal of hundreds of amazing products from other businesses and producers just like us! We have laughed. We have cried. We have been so exhausted we couldn’t stand any longer! We have made life long friends, and learnt so much about such a fantastic industry. We have been immensely proud. And…we still love it. But do you know my best achievent? Ben and I are now married with 2 beautiful boys of our own. And they live with us on the farm. They get that magical childhood that I had! We have so much more we want to achieve, but with this goal I can safely say ‘mission accomplished’!