Down on the farm

14 September, 2007
A farming family has taken heed of the need to diversify and in doing so, taken advantage of a rejuvenated farm shop sector by building its own bakery. Carol Magor reports
Page 18 
Spring Lane Farm in Mapperley, Nottingham, is a working farm, solely producing products to sell on-site - from free range eggs and vegetables to fresh meat.
The idea of opening a bakery evolved because the butchery was having to sell forequarter meat from the cattle as stewing steak and mince. So they decided to use it to make pies and, coupled with customer demand, the prospect of a bakery became more commercially appealing.Mark says: "All our beef is home-produced as are all the vegetables and free-range eggs, so it was just a question of squeezing as much value out of our products as we could."The bakery, aided by a Defra grant of £38,000 under the Rural Enterprise Scheme, which helps farmers adapt to changing markets and develop new business opportunities, took 12 months to complete.Housed in a converted Dutch Barn, the bakery and shop is a 45ft x 30ft steel-framed building with a cement fibre roof, which sits next to the farm shop. The one-time redundant farm building, now converted into a bakery, sits on a 250-acre site, and complements the existing butchery and farm shop.keeping it in the familyThe farm and bakery, which opened in September 2006, are owned by the Spencer family, which has been farming there since 1939.The farm is now run by two generations - Cyril and Dorothy and their son Mark, 36, and his wife Claire. Much of the conversion work was carried out by Mark and Cyril to make the project more cost-effective.The Spencers chose to go down the route of handmade traditionally baked, high-quality products. Speciality bread includes tomato and herb, date and walnut, blue cheese and walnut, and cheese and onion. Other bread includes white, wholemeal, Granary and white Granary, using Hovis flour.Cakes, scones and tarts sit at the top end of the range and are all crammed with extra ingredients such as raisins or chocolate. Currant bread and teacakes are proving immensely popular.EQUIPMENT SOURCINGMuch of the equipment for the bakery was sourced through a local company, based in nearby Hucknall, which specialises in reconditioned and second-hand equipment. Mark's wife, Claire, who manages both the farm shop and bakery, says: "We bought a 12-tray four-deck oven, pastry break and bun divider and a couple of mixers, plus other bits and pieces. The shelving came from the stockist we used before to equip the farm shop."We wanted to keep the whole feel rustic and rural-looking because, after all, we are on a working farm."All the products are packaged bearing the Spring Lane Farm logo, which is printed at point of sale. "It has been an expensive venture to get going, so we have had to watch our outlay. One of our best investments has been the logo, which has paid dividends because customers now start to recognise our goods as a brand. They like that because it gives them continuity."The shop's customer base is mainly local people who are interested in how and where their food is produced. If a customer goes into the butchery department, they can see the meat being cut up and prepared. The same is true with the bakery, where they can see bread and cakes being made.The bakery also supplies one or two local nursing homes and children's nurseries and carries out the occasional delivery.The most valuable marketing tool has been word-of-mouth and the farm produces a quarterly newsletter to keep its customers informed about any new developments. Claire says: "It has taken a lot of hard work to get the project up and running, but it is lovely to see it come to fruition, and we are really excited about it." n----=== Planning problems ===Although the family are essentially farmers, they are happy to have gone down the diversification route with their shops, because it means they can carry on doing what they love - farming - and still make a living from the land by supplying local demand. But plans to diversify have met with one major stumbling block: the local council."We have been on a steep learning curve and we have had to take every opportunity to diversify," says Claire. "We have a farm shop, butchery, bakery and the farm, so where do we go next? Well the natural thing seems to be - and our customers have already started to mention it - a coffee shop."However it has all been a complicated process because, technically, we are in a greenbelt area and we have a constant battle with our local planning authority. It is so infuriating because we are an expanding business employing more and more local staff, but they don't seem to see that."We still have redundant farm buildings on our land which we could convert into a coffee shop, so we wouldn't even be putting up a new building on a greenbelt site," she adds. "In the long term, we want to make it a nice experience for our customers and if that means a coffee shop as well, then we will try to make it happen."----=== Rural job creation ===The bakery installation created four jobs, including a bakery manager and an assistant manager.Bakery manager Bob Crampton, now 57, owned a wholesale bakery in nearby Carlton for 25 years and, after selling it as a going concern, retired for three years. However, he found he missed the baking side, but not the hassle of running his own business. So when the opportunity arose at Spring Lane Farm, he jumped at it.The first time he saw the bakery it was an empty shell and he says he was "just so excited about the prospect of being in at the beginning of a new project".Assistant bakery manager Mark Riddle comes from a mixed background of in-store and craft bakeries. "I just like the whole traditional craft baking approach because I prefer to create the goods from scratch. There is no par-baking or premixes, it's about weighing up individual ingredients and we know exactly what is being put in the bread, how it will come out and that the quality will be the best possible."Manager Claire Spencer adds: "We decided right from the start that we would employ bakery staff, as we were naive about the industry. The bakery would have been too much for me to manage, so I pay the wages and look after the staff. Bob and Mark do what they love doing best - baking."



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