Sustainable food production is more pertinent than ever with the current scandalous arrogance of food producers who don’t care enough about the source of their produce, just about the bottom line.
It’s an issue that runs in parallel with sustainable clothing, except of course, what we put inside our bodies impacts on our own future health as well as the impact its production has on workers and future generations.
How it became acceptable for us to be kept in the dark about where our food comes from is not so much a mystery. Consumers were pretty compliant, happy to snap up the cheapest products on the shelves unquestioning; supermarkets only to happy to drive the price down and down to win more customers. The sacrifice had to come somewhere – and guess what? It’s the quality of the food we are eating that has suffered along with the rise of an entirely modern food culture where we close our eyes to the obvious.
With the pressures on suppliers, the meat (or other produce we buy) can vary in quality enormously. So in the modern UK, the quality of a leg of lamb can be wildly different, as can a fillet of salmon or a sausage! And when broken down, so can the goodness we get from eating what you may think is the same product only cheaper. The answer is it is not the same product. To a large degree we get what we pay for. Which might not be fair economically – but it is an unfortunate truth, and of course as all the TV chefs will tell you, there are ways around it with cheaper cuts of meat and careful planning.
Of course, in more recent years loads of alternative approaches have emerged. Organic, free range, local produce is available all over the country. But it does come at a price. And perhaps only when individuals begin to buy responsibly – when we break that ‘don’t want to know’ culture that has crept into our consumerist brains – will the change really begin to take hold.
Langley Chase farm is a wonderful example of one of those alternatives – of a culture that is so unrecognisable to the one we see all over the news at the moment. Jane Kallaway describes herself as a shepherdess – which makes you warm to this lady and her Wiltshire Farm instantly. A real pioneer of organic and rare breed farming in the UK, Jane first began rearing sheep at Langley Chase in reaction to the BSE crisis and concern for her own family’s health. She rears a single species – the Manx Loaghtan sheep – which is a traditional British rare breed in danger of dying out without farmers like the Kalloways.
The lamb and mutton that Jane produces has won fourteen National Organic Meat awards as well as being served in leading restaurants across the country. There is no distribution chain when you buy from Langley Chase – you buy direct, you know what you are buying, and where it comes from. And you might even get to pick up some by-products too – Langley Chase first caught my eye shopping for lambskin rugs – just amazing!
We spoke to Jane about rare breed farming at Langley Chase and her philosophy for food.
FLUXLINGS: I read about how you started producing your own meat after the BSE crisis. Had you been involved in farming before that? If not, what is your background?
Jane Kallaway: I started farming because I was concerned about where my family’s meat was coming from and how it was produced. I researched organic farming and its benefits as well as the health benefits of rare, native breeds, of UK farm animals and was impressed by what I found. Organic farming is significantly better for the environment, the animals being farmed, the quality of the produce higher and it’s a system that’s connected to environment rather than detracting from it. I decided to go with the Soil Association as it has the highest standards, and I wanted to sell produce directly as it gave me a direct connection with the consumer and also gave them complete traceability of their produce. My success has been tremendous, I am so delighted to have won the accolades Best Organic Meat in Britain at the National Organic Food Awards! Prior to farming I have worked across a range of activities, but mainly rearing four children!
FLUXLINGS: Do you think there is an impact on our health when we eat food/meat raised quickly using modern day farming methods?
Jane Kallaway: Yes. Often intensively reared animals can produce lower quality meat, have a lower quality of life and are produced in systems that can degrade the environment. What I think is key to all this is the divorce between the consumer and the producer. My parents generation shopped on a high-street where the butcher, baker and vegetable shop knew the farmers who produced their produce, the produce sold was in season from around the UK and generally customers where more informed about cooking and the different type of produce available. Today, most of the small shops have gone, farmers produce food with very tight margins and the customer is generally out of touch with where the food comes from. We need to reclaim the knowledge of how to cook, how to respect food and form links with those that produce the food we eat and I think all children should be taught how to cook in school.
FLUXLINGS: Why choose a rare breed? Is it about preserving a breed, or because the meat is better quality?
Jane Kallaway: Both. Before industrialised farming the UK had a wide range of breeds used in production – both animals and plants. However, these varying breeds and their various benefits have been lost as farming industrialised. Between 1900 and 1973 the UK lost 26 native breeds of livestock, according to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The result is a farming system centred around a handful of animal breeds, crops and vegetables – with some traditional breeds, like the Manx Loaghtan sheep I rear, at risk from complete loss. This decline is not just linked to the UK, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust estimates that one breed of farm animal becomes extinct every month around the world. Many people think it’s unsafe to be so dependent on such a small number of breeds of animals and plants. And, rare breeds also have significant advantages, including the better taste, healthier meat and other environmental benefits. For example, The Manx Loaghtan is significantly healthier than commercially reared lamb. The Scottish Agricultural College found the Manx Loaghtan to be 23 per cent lower in fat and almost 10 per cent lower in cholesterol than commercial breeds.
FLUXLINGS: How did you find your farm in Wiltshire?
Jane Kallaway: We’ve been here from 1979 and fell in love with the place on first sight.
FLUXLINGS: There is an amazing sense of the link with history in your farming methods. Even the term ‘Shepherdess’ feels like it’s from a lost age. Do you enjoy that element to your farming?
Jane Kallaway: Absolutely. Nothing beats the feeling of connection with soil and a way of seeking to be in harmony with the animals we rear and care for and the environment we work in.
Langley Chase flock moved to fresh pasture after shearing, by Cristian Barnett (www.crisbarnett.com).
FLUXLINGS: Do these traditional methods have a long term place in modern food production / how can we help make sure they do?
Jane Kallaway: Yes, very much so. Indeed, I think there is an increasing awareness of the benefits of rare breed farm animals, with restaurants, celebrity chefs and others promoting their use. There’s a great saying – Eat them to Keep them – and it’s very true. The best thing people can do to help traditional farming and rare breed farm animals is to source their produce. Support farmers and butchers selling rare breed produce.
FLUXLINGS: What are your main jobs on a day to day basis taking care of a rare breed flock?
Jane Kallaway: On a day to day basis looking after a rare breed flock of sheep is much like any other. It’s about getting the basics right, looking at their welfare all the time and ensuring the pasture they’re grazing is as good as it possibly can be.
FLUXLINGS: I see you do a lot of education work and school visits. I can imagine the children love it. What’s are best things a farm like yours can teach them?
Jane Kallaway: I think its so important for children to visit farms. Every year we hear these shocking statistics that children think potatoes grow on trees or similar. Children often have no connection at all with produce beyond the supermarket aisle and this must change. I think that by visiting our farm they see some pretty remarkable looking sheep, which they love, but I hope they also go away understanding that rearing meat is about excellent animal welfare.
FLUXLINGS: What’s your best recommendation for a great Sunday lunch from your lamb and mutton offerings?
Jane Kallaway: My favourite is roast leg of mutton with a rich red wine and plum gravy. Our Mutton has won the National Organic Food Awards for a number of years and it’s a much misunderstood meat. People think it’s difficult to cook but it is amazingly easy – just slow cook it and it is wonderfully tender and delicious. Everyone who buys from us always come back for more. We also make it easier by including recipes they might like to try.
FLUXLINGS: Do you think being more open with our children about how meat gets to the table is important, rather than them just thinking it appears by magic in plastic on supermarket shelves?
Jane Kallaway: Absolutely. We must connect our children with food, and educate them about what is proper, wholesome food and why food produced with respect for animals, the environment and for the farmer, is significantly more valuable to them and the wider community than other foodstuffs. If we look at the galloping rates of obesity and diabetes and the poor diet of the nation generally and the cost this places on the NHS and people’s lives, we must look again at food education and reconnect children with farming and good food production.
FLUXLINGS: The rugs and clothing you produce look just amazing – I think it is fantastic how you can select your actual rug from your site and they look quite different. Is the colour variation a characteristic of the Manx Loaghtan breed?
Jane Kallaway: Thank you. I think it’s important for people to be able to see what they’re buying and everything we produce, our meat, rugs and more all come with complete traceability from the farm to the customer’s door. The Manx Loagthan breed takes its name from the colour of its fleece, derived from two Manx words Lugh (mouse) and Dhoan (brown) or from Lhost dhoan (burnt brown). The natural variation in the rugs is completely natural and down to that particular animal, its age and the time of year of production. The rugs we sell are completely unique and provide a bespoke luxury for the home that can be enjoyed by the family for generations.
For more information on Langley Chase see www.langleychase.co.uk