A co-operative of smaller farms and producers from Sussex and Kent, Jacob’s Ladder Farms supplies biodynamic and organic meat, eggs and bread to some of London’s best food markets. Set up by Michael and Jayne Duveen in 2010, all producers involved champion traditional farming practices. It was our privilege to speak to Jayne Duveen, a veteran of the food industry, including a twenty-year association with Neal's Yard Dairy. Our interview with her was an inspirational one in which she spoke about native breeds and organic farming practices to her UK food hero, Randolph Hodgson, and the revival of traditional butchery in the UK.
How did you get started?
Michael and I have always been passionate about food and farming and so when he converted our current farm over to biodynamic status, it offered us a unique opportunity to do something. We established Jacob’s Ladder Farms as we wanted to relay the importance of reconnecting food to the farm as well as work with likeminded farmers. As most of the farms involved are small, working together enables us to find a viable way of trading in London and is the only way that we can offer our customers all year round supply.
And the name?
It’s the rib of the animal. This is a name that has been forgotten with the loss of whole carcass butchery. Whole carcass butchery was done in the days when the majority of butchers would walk the fields with the farmer and buy whole animals direct from the farm. The industry moved away from this and bought prime cuts from wholesalers and the direct link to the farm was lost. This is now changing and once again people are appreciating their butcher and wanting the cuts that have been forgotten and more importantly to know where their meat comes from. We believe that this revival of whole carcass butchery ties in really well with the growing interest in provenance which is what Jacob's Ladder Farms has to offer.
Who are the other farms that you work with?
There is our own farm, where we have built up a herd of Sussex cattle and a flock of Romney sheep. Our beef is grass fed and the breeds are native. Other farms include Perry Court Farm - the first family to practice biodynamic agriculture in the UK. They rear the Luing beef breed which is hardy and suits their farming system. Montague Farm is an organic farm in Sussex. They also have the native Romney sheep breed and their farm is now an area of Special Scientific Interest because of all the wildlife and biodiversity. We also work with Edwina Le May at Ladymead's Farm who has been rearing organic rare breed hens for 27 years.
All farms are family-run including Hungary Lane Farm - a 300 acre biodynamic farm located in Sutton Bonington and Coopers Farm that specialises in Britain’s oldest and now rare pig breed – Berkshire. We also work with Brockwell Bake Association and were one of the first to start sell Andy Forbes sourdough bread. Andy is interested in reviving heritage wheat breeds that flourish in organic/biodynamic farming systems. We were one of the first farms to start growing grain for Andy and therefore it was a natural step to sell his bread.
How did you select these farms to work with?
We wanted to work with farms that held principles similar to our own. So, we work with usually small mixed farms and farmers who are as passionate as we are about taking care of the land and providing the very best in animal welfare. Most are either certified organic or biodynamic. A few of them are traditional farms but don’t use artificial chemicals, pesticides or fertilisers. The majority rear native breeds because of the quality of the meat and suitability to their farming systems.
What is a native breed?
It is a breed that originates from an area. For us, it is Sussex cattle – they are a wonderful liver red coloured animal and they have been in this area since 1066. (This is the first time that they were officially recorded.) Why we like them is that they flourish naturally on the permanent pasture land that most of our farms have, and as a result of this, you get meat with really good flavour. Our sheep originate from the Romney Marshes thus their name. Native breeds are hardy and need little human intervention.
What changes have you seen in London as a food city since establishing Jacob’s Ladder?
There is a real revival in butchery again. People are beginning to appreciate the skills of a butcher. Customers are wanting to know where there meat comes from, how long it has been aged, whether it has been grass fed and whether you can supply the more interesting cuts like brisket, featherblade and of course jacobs ladder. Bones is another revival. We currently have such a demand for bones as people are now making stock again that we can’t keep up.
UK food hero?
My UK hero is Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard Dairy. When he started in the 1970s, the majority of cheese was vacuum-packed and made in blocks. He helped to revive the farmhouse cheese industry and was a real innovator in how to engage with customers. He encouraged people to taste what was on offer and to learn about the lengths that each producer goes to in making good cheese. I would like to do with the same in the meat industry.
What’s in your larder?
I have a piece of our own grass-fed topside beef that has been aged for four weeks. I'm going to roast for the family and use Perrycourt's biodynamic vegetable that I bought at Crystal Palace Market. I always have Andy’s sourdough bread as it lasts me all week. Edwina's exquisitely coloured eggs are fabulous scrambled on Andy's toasted bread. There's biodynamic milk and yogurt from local Plaw Hatch Farm. For later in the week I have lemon sole, which I traded for some featherblade with the lovely Dan at Veasey and Sons Fishmongers. He trades next door to us at Brockley market.
I don’t have a favourite because all the markets that we trade at are excellent and have so much to offer in terms of range and quality. I have a great deal of respect for the people that set up Brockley Market and Crystal Palace Food Market because they love food themselves and they have inspired their local communities to join them in their passion to support good food producers. Another is Spa Terminus that has been initiated by Anita Le Roy of Monmouth Coffee and Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard Dairy. They are looking to bring together producers and traders who share similar principles to their own. This initiative can only be good and I envisage it becoming a very popular destination for all those that love good food.
Jacob’s Ladder Farms is a permanent resident of Spa Terminus with regular stalls at Brockley and Crystal Palace markets. They are also in the process of setting up a farm shop in their village of Forest Row. Check here for full details.
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