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Penbugle Farm, Cornwall

Penbugle Farm, Cornwall
Will Roberts meets the Cornish farmer behind Whole Foods Market's ethically produced meat.
John Ridout gets embarrassed when I ask him how good his organic lamb is.
“I’m no expert in that type of thing, but there is certainly something in it,” he says modestly after a drawn-out day on his 260-acre farm in east Cornwall. “I would always be able to tell the difference from a normal piece of meat, but I couldn’t say what it was.”
The thing is, John doesn’t farm his 300 ewes organically because he thinks they tastes better. He doesn’t even farm that way because he can sell the finished product for more money. He farms organic lamb because he genuinely believes that rearing livestock organically is the best way to do it.
His lamb ends up on sale at Whole Foods Market's five stores in London – a long way from the rolling hills of sleepy Cornwall. The meat has been reared with the animal's welfare in mind. Whole Foods Markets choose to stock John Ridout's lamb because as well as ticking the ethical boxes, it happens to taste pretty good, too.
The deep red, marbled lamb chop which makes its way to your frying pan, had a good life at Penbugle Farm, where John has lived with his wife Lizzie and their three teenage children since 2005.
The likelihood is, your lamb spent all its life on the farm’s fields in the Looe River Valley.
Penbugle Farm is almost completely a closed farm, meaning that apart from the odd ram which pops in to pay a visit, all the animals have been born and reared there. The ewes aren't force fed, they are allowed to fatten up naturally on a diet of grass, clover and turnips – all organic of course.
“Whatever sun we get goes directly into the grass and is fed back into the animal,” John says proudly.
The family also use homeopathic treatments to tackle illness and the same approach is adopted during lambing – giving ewes much more time during birth.
And when the lamb is ready for slaughter, its final hours are as peaceful as the rest of its life has been.
“We take our lambs to an abattoir which is very close. So the time between the animal being in the field and it being slaughtered is about 20 or 30 minutes,” says John. “Lots of animals will travel for five or six hours before slaughter so they are much more stressed – that has an effect on the meat.”
But the strict organic methods adopted by at Penbugle Farm didn't come naturally to the Ridouts. Both John and Lizzie came from strong farming families who weren't afraid to resort to chemicals to make their lives easier.
“I remember going out into the fields spraying with my Dad and Grandad, because it was part of farming,” says John “But often I would come back and have a funny head, which must have been from the spray and really that can't be good for you.”
Penbugle Farm, part of the Prince of Wales' Duchy of Cornwall estate, wasn't an organic farm before 2005, so when the Ridouts took it over, there was a two year period when the family had to farm organically without being able to use the much-coveted organic stamp.
But even now, running a farm this way presents its challenges. “I don't consider myself to be the best in the world, but I think it takes a better farmer to farm organically,” says John. “You see a field full of docks and it would be quite easy to go and get the sprayer out but we have got to think round the problem. “You are always learning new things, but it is worth it.”
Penbugle Farm lamb is one of a number of organically-reared products available through the Cornish River Valley group and sold directly to the five Whole Foods Markets stores in London.
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15 December 2009
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