This article by Angus D. Birditt was produced for Pasture for Life (PfL)
Meet Claire and Nikki Pollock, who run Ardross Farm and farm shop, perched right on the coast in the East Neuk of Fife, looking out across the Firth of Forth. Angus D. Birditt went to go and see the Pollock family to capture them at work on the farm, and understand what it means to be a ‘Pasture For Life’ Certified farmer.
Tell us about Ardross Farm, and what you sell?
CP: We have a herd of beautiful rusty coloured Stabiliser cattle that graze the extensive dune system running along our farm and a flock of long legged Easy Care sheep that spend all year grazing up on our hill a little inland. We are very proud to say that both our cattle and sheep are Pasture for Life certified. We are extremely lucky farming so close to the sea with our land running right down to the beach. Farming at the coast means we have a very mild climate, not too hot in the summer and rarely frost or snow in the winter. It therefore enables the animals to happily graze the sand dunes looking out to the sea all year round.
NP: We sell all of our beef, lamb and mutton in our farm shop, which we set up in 2005 to deal directly with our customers. We also have our own bees on the farm, which thrive on our wildflower and wild bird seed corridors and the beautiful pale flowers of clover. They produce wonderful creamy honey, which we sell in our farm shop. Just after we opened our shop we realised there was demand for fresh, local vegetables. We stopped growing huge quantities for the supermarkets and focused on a more diverse range of smaller quantities to harvest all year round. We now grow everything from herbs, pumpkins & kale to potatoes, kohlrabi and parsnips. These are harvested fresh every morning from the field. Along with this we also grow wheat, barley, oil seed rape and beans.
What are your farming methods at Ardross Farm, and why?
CP: We could talk about this all day! We have changed almost everything we do on the farm, in response to customer expectations, research on climate change and environmental considerations. Dealing directly with the public has given us the opportunity to question everything we do and change anything that wasn’t positively contributing to our business and the future sustainability of our farm.
We call ourselves traditional farmers at Ardross. We’ve taken the best of the old and new methods in order to farm in a way that is not only sustainable but is also regenerative. On the arable side of the business we have stopped ploughing the soil and now direct drill our crops into the stubble from the previous year. It is very important to us to protect our soil and keep it covered at all times. Soil is a huge topic and unbelievably important, for those who are interested we would highly recommend reading about the massive advances in this field. However, in summary keeping the fields covered is fantastic for soil structure, wildlife including ground nesting birds and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
We also use a traditional five-year rotation; this means that a crop is only grown in the same field once every five years. Each crop has different mineral and nutrient requirements so changing what grows every year ensures that the soil doesn’t become depleted. We make sure that beans, which are naturally nitrogen-fixing and have roots that are extremely beneficial to soil structure, are incorporated throughout the rotation.
"We firmly believe that preventative care is the way forward, and through years of testing and changes, we now rarely, if ever, need antibiotics and never blanket vaccinate our animals."
NP: On the livestock side, we are High Health accredited. We voluntarily participate in this scheme, which audits us to ensure all of our livestock are as happy and healthy as possible. We do this through blood testing every animal on the farm each year. In doing this, it allows us to be proactive in the health of our animals rather than reactive. We firmly believe that preventative care is the way forward, and through years of testing and changes, we now rarely, if ever, need antibiotics and never blanket vaccinate our animals. We’ve also changed the breed of cattle we work with to one that is smaller and hardier. Although this may perhaps sound counterproductive in practice this means that they can stay outside all year as they are lighter on their feet in the wet but they are also fantastic mothers. They have smaller calves, so they can calve on their own without assistance, the cow and calf can then get back up on their feet quickly, without birth trauma, and the calf gets vital colostrum within minutes of being born. This provides the building blocks of their immune system for the rest of their life.
What does it mean to be regenerative? How important is it?
CP: The term regenerative agriculture is something that we have only really known about for a couple of years. Although we are still learning and have a lot more to do on the farm, it is something that we really identify with. To be a regenerative farmer, not only do you have to be sustainable with what you have already, you have to help the land recover from the highly industrialised practises that agriculture has favoured in modern times. We are hoping to regenerate the land, leave it in a better condition than when we started farming it. It’s about feeding the soil, looking after everything on our farm, from the insects to the cattle and trees, improving the whole ecosystem so we are farming in harmony with the land. Many modern farming practises are fantastic and get really good results, but often the environment, the ecosystem is thought of something to be tamed, not something that is integral to the farm.
NP: Regenerative agriculture is perhaps one of the most important concepts of our time. It offers the opportunity to not only halt climate change but also reverse it - if only enough people can adopt the practices! Land, when managed regeneratively, actually captures carbon from the atmosphere. It has been said that we just need 10-20% of farmed land to move to regenerative agriculture to achieve this. This is unbelievably exciting and it provides the opportunity for agriculture to become part of the solution to something that will affect all of us in one way or another. We only have a few short years to protect future generations from climate change, now is the time and now we have the solution.
What does it mean to be part of Pasture for Life (PfL)? And what are the benefits of being ‘Pasture For Life’ certified?
CP: When we first got involved with Pasture for Life (PfL), we were just a member and found this hugely beneficial. Mostly because of the forum that allows a fantastic group of likeminded farmers to connect together, share knowledge and ask questions. We have learnt a huge amount from this. As regenerative farming is a relatively new practice, everyone is learning, so having this support structure was a fantastic help.
NP: Our cattle were grass-fed for a long time before we became Pasture for Life (PfL) Certified. So becoming certified didn’t make any changes to our practises on the farm. However, being certified did allow us to convey more coherently what being 100% grass-fed means to our customers and give the customer an easy, identifiable stamp of authenticity. Using the website for facts and nutritional information is also really helpful.
CP:A huge part of our business is about building up trust with our customers, and being the link between suppliers and consumers. We have found a general increase in people wanting to know where their food comes from, and this certification was just another stamp to illustrate what we are trying to achieve on our farm. Many farms claim to produce grass-fed meat but few of them actually do. We were looking for a point of difference and with the ‘Pasture of Life’ stamp, we have this and it’s audited and certified.
How did the farm shop evolve at Ardross?
NP: The farm shop opened in 2005, initially to create an outlet for our own beef. At the time, we felt like there was a huge disconnect between us, the producers and the end product. It was hugely dissatisfying spending all the time and effort to create what we thought was the best product we could, only to see it go on a lorry and receive weights back. We decided if we started a farm shop, we would be able to see the product right through to the end and link the chain. We started in an old cart shed (the vegetable area in the shop if anyone has ever been), with one chest freezer and a kitchen table and calculator. Thankfully for us, local food was really coming into its own and the shop just seemed to grow from there. Being completely naive to retail, we sourced all our products by listening to our customers and going with what they wanted and products they thought were amazing. We got a huge amount of joy dealing directly with our customers and seeing the desire for other small producers, so we have kept pushing our business forward in the same way.
What’s your favourite recipe using your ‘Pasture For Life’ Certified meat?
CP: Our whole family loves cooking pulled beef brisket. It’s the perfect meal after a day outside in the fresh air. We pop it in a slow cooker first thing in the morning and don’t need to look at it until teatime. We have it on flat breads with peppers, salad, hummus or guacamole, or on a roll at lunchtime. It’s delicious and so easy!