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Follow us for updates of life, food & wildlife on the farm here in the Lower Derwent Valley, Yorkshire.

By Rosewood Farm, Mar 19 2017 04:14PM

The release of the book Dead Zone, Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery, of Compassion in World Farming, this week reminds us that what we eat, three times every day, has a direct impact upon the variety of wild plants and animals that survive beside us in our countryside. Here at Rosewood Farm we are mindful to ensure that how we farm not only eliminates harm to other species around the world, but actively restores and enhances the biodiversity of our local landscape. Like all great culinary delights, this doesn't happen by accident, and is the result of carefully following and refining the recipe. Here's how it's done;

Biodiversity is a dish best served warm, or cold, depending upon where in the world (and the season) that it is being prepared, but most important of all it must never be reheated! The best biodiversity is a deeply satisfying, healthy and sustaining meal.

You will notice that some recipes call for you to omit key elements in order to make the nature even better, but anyone who knows the texture of a true, authentic biodiversity will recognise that it is all about the balance of many different flavours. Crustless alternatives are possible to make, but not recommended as they tend to be weak & lacking in structure, more prone to collapse as you bring them to the table.

For the pasture base;

For the filling;

Serve with carefully-selected, seasonal fresh vegetables, but go easy on them to leave plenty of room for more biodiversity. Many types of biodiversity made in the UK can be frozen and last all year but don’t rely too much on storage, as the results will degrade over time. If you get the correct balance there is no need to repeat the steps above, just keep on enjoying the results.

Whilst many hosts may push the boat out for special occasions and order in some biodiversity to impress their guests, it is important to maintain demand year-round to ensure a steady, continuous supply. There are lots of different garnishes and flavourings to ensure that it never becomes dull!

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 16 2017 01:54PM

I wasn’t planning to blog so soon after my last installment about Planet Earth, but then a report, revealing how birds are being cropped out of the British Countryside, dropped into my inbox. I felt it was important to share this news as so often we can easily feel like our contribution is insignificant when it comes to preventing and reversing climate change. This is different, there really are lots of things we can do to halt the decline of farmland birds and their habitat.

You may be forgiven for thinking that we are anti-arable farming here at Rosewood after years of us going on about how bad crops are for the countryside and how much better grassfed is for us, the environment and the animals. So you may be surprised to learn that we do actually like some veg with our meat, and we don’t think humans should turn into carnivores - we just think that the balance has been somewhat tipped in the wrong direction.

I don’t know any farmers who actively enjoy destroying biodiversity but the level of passion for our wildlife varies among them from apathetic to absolute dedication. The problem we face is that the market doesn’t offer many opportunities to reward farmers for having the most biodiverse farms, in fact it is largely due to the personal interest of farmers & conservationist that we have any wildlife left in the UK at all.

Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop
Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop

It was during a meeting with one farmer last year about our plans to graze his recreated wet grassland that the enthusiasm really hit home. John is an arable farmer with a real passion for growing brussels sprouts, but it turned out his passion also extended to taking shots (with his mobile phone's camera) of the Lapwings living in his sprout crop! But when was the last time you saw ‘Lapwing-friendly’ sprouts on the supermarket shelf?

Post-war governments & the EU have certainly played a big part in both habitat loss and restoration over the years, and opinion remains divided over whether Brexit will be good or bad for nature. At Rosewood our own experience, taking part in the EU-funded Countryside Stewardship Scheme for ten years, was a mixed bag. On the one hand the capital grants were great - they helped us to restore the hedgerows that had been lost due to years of neglect (as opposed to active destruction).

A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm
A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm

The other side of the coin was that we were farming by dates and numbers. Prescriptions were put in place to stop us grazing after x-date and not before y-date, not taking into account the weather, ground cover or alternative grazing/housing for the animals. ‘Farming by numbers’ was both practically unsustainable and took absolutely no account of whether we were achieving our wildlife objectives or not. If I could change one thing about the system it would be that any incentives are paid for results and let farmers farm in the best way they see fit to achieve those results.

Fast-forward to the present day and we can see the legacy of ‘farming by numbers’, coupled with unsustainably low prices for livestock, in the number of local farmers who are giving up grazing in the Ings. There has also been a [not so] coincidental shift in what the market is demanding from farmers too. We all know about the effect that the cheap food policy has had on farming but less often mentioned are the unrealistic specifications that farm produce has to conform to. In the good times the prices paid for produce may be reasonable, but there is virtually no demand for the produce which falls outside of the spec so it fetches a much lower price. This has shaped the countryside for years with farmers forced to produce what they can sell, not necessarily what benefits their land and biodiversity.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family

Hugh’s War on Waste challenged us to start demanding wonky veg to cut food waste. Not only does this represent a waste of time and energy in growing and transporting food that we will never eat but that veg is taking up valuable space once inhabited by our farmland birds. As we spray and cultivate crops in pursuit of perfection we are actively wiping out the insects, seeds and nesting sites on which our farmland birds depend.

This is why at Rosewood we sell-direct, as we have always kept Dexter cattle that are much smaller than most breeds of cattle. Dexters are the ‘wonky’ veg of the beef world, so wonky that you won’t find them in the supermarkets at all. Ironically we find that our customers find that the smaller joints and steaks suit them better for home cooking, when they are given the choice. We have also found that Dexters, unlike the supermarket specification-hitting larger breeds, are ideally suited to grazing the diverse and damp grasslands of the Ings without causing damage to the soil.

Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland
Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland

So, what does this mean for the birds? Well, the other advantage of being in direct contact with you, the consumer, is that we can talk about the problem of declining bird numbers and how eating more beef really can help us to address this. Our passion has always been grassland and grazing livestock, so we’re not planning on becoming arable farmers anytime soon, and much of our land is unsuitable for cultivation anyway. Overs the years we have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing the land and livestock together for the benefit of wild birds and by working with farmers like John, we are able to spread our impact over the wider arable landscape too.

So here are a few things you can do to help us to put the birds back into the British countryside;

- Write to your MP to put birds into Brexit by letting them know that you want to end the ‘farming by numbers’ approach

- Help us to invest in new hedgerows, ponds and bird boxes with our 'Veggie' donation box

- Keep buying the wonky veg, and serve it with some wonky beef

- Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch on the 28th - 30th January

- Share this blog with all your friends and inspire others to bring the birds back!

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 7 2016 11:56PM

This might not be what you were expecting me to blog about this month but when asked (it's one of the unfortunate hazards of being around the sustainable ag community) if I was taking part in veganuary this year, I declined. The #veganuary website asks, Why take part in Veganuary? Well, why not?, so I thought I'd summarise some of the reasons why you too might decide to give it a miss;

1) January is one of the worst months to rely upon plant based foods

Think about it for a second, in conservation, when do we feel the need to feed wildlife most? That's right, winter. Food is in short supply for our wild animals at this time of year and it is during these months that many animals die for lack of sustenance. Humans, on the other hand, have developed sophisticated food production, storage and transport techniques that allow us to eat exactly what we want, when we want it, but this does come at a cost.

2) It's not seasonal

We're always being urged to eat more seasonal food, for a variety of reasons, and it makes sense for us to eat whatever is available in abundance at that particular time of year. Our vegetable crops are at their most naturally productive during summer, so you'd think they'd schedule a month for eating more veg when there is naturally more available, but apparently not.

Image credit;
Image credit;

On the other side we have meat which, as a natural food for humans, would tend to be consumed in greater quantities during winter when alternatives were less available. At the same time, a limited plant based food supply encourages more hunting to protect the valuable crops and stores from all the other creatures that are struggling to survive the winter. The temperatures (usually!) tend to be cooler in winter, which makes for easier preservation and storage of meat too, so if ever there was a time to eat meat, it's now .

4) It drives imports

You may be thinking that the seasons don't apply any longer and we can produce everything we need from plants, in which case have a look at some of the recipes designed to tempt your tastebuds this month. Chickpeas, Coconut, Tomatoes and Tofu - not exactly your usual homegrown favourites from the garden in January, or indeed any time of year for three out of the four. So how far does your meal have to travel to reach you, and is it really ethical to be importing so much water in fresh produce from arid regions?

Image credit; Holy Cow vegan recipes
Image credit; Holy Cow vegan recipes

5) It drives exports

Britain has quite a wet, cold climate that isn't so great for growing annual crops year round, but it is a wonderful climate for grass! About 65% of our agricultural land in the UK is grassland so we are capable of producing a lot of meat at home. The trouble is that we can't just change our land and climate to suit changing diets, so our farmers continue to rely heavily upon livestock to produce edible food. A switch to less meat, particularly in winter, gives them fewer options to continue making a living from the land. One solution is to export what we can produce in order to pay for what we can't.

Exporting food just to import alternatives is hardly sensible, even if you don't care about the environment or animal welfare. We believe that animals should be killed as close to the farm as possible, which is why we use small, local abattoirs, just a stone's throw away from the fields where the animals graze.

6) It's dull

OK, so maybe you don't feel the need to import all your ingredients and already buy everything locally. In the UK that probably means you have a few dried pulses, winter brassicas and selected root vegetables to make a meal from. Far better to give it a go in the summer when there's often a glut of fresh produce available, so much so that we end up feeding the excesses to animals because we can't possibly eat or store it all.

Image source;
Image source;

7) Wildlife suffer

We have a climate suitable for growing grass but we've still lost 97% of our wildflower meadows over the past 100 years. These are important habitats for a wide variety of insects, birds, plants and mammals and often the last haven for biodiversity in otherwise arable landscapes. Our grasslands are very important threatened habitats for winter visitors too, with waterfowl and waders enjoying the seasonally inundated wetlands as safe places to feed and spend the winter. Grasslands have developed over thousands of years of pastoral farming but to date there have been few efforts made by the vegan community to support these habitats.

Winter visitors to the Lower Derwent Valley
Winter visitors to the Lower Derwent Valley

8) Farmers suffer

Farming, particularly with livestock, is a 365 days a year job - animals can't be turned off for a few months. Winter is the most expensive season for farmers, at a time when animals require greater daily care and attention while they are not able to be out grazing. While every farmer needs to make a profit to feed both his/her own family and to reinvest in the business, more often than not it is cashflow, rather than profit, that means a business ceases to trade. With many abattoirs and markets closed over the Christmas period, January is an important time to start selling livestock and produce again.

9) It drives factory farming

A commonly held belief is that reducing the amount of meat we eat is beneficial for animals and ourselves, but as a recent assessment from the US Food & Drug Administration showed, we're eating less meat but using more antibiotics to produce it. By cutting back on consumption there is a negative feedback loop where the farmer receives less money and therefore has to produce more, for less. Most likely the smaller farmers simply have to cease production enabling, larger industrialised units to increase their size & economies of scale.

10) It was very carefully planned to be this way

They were correct, January was the ideal month to capitalise on the post-Christmas lull as both personal finances and mood are at an annual low. It was obviously not chosen to make the most of the wonderful food we can produce seasonally and sustainably in this country.

So, rather than indiscriminately cutting out a whole food group at the worst possible time of year, I urge you to take a look at the food you buy each week and consider just how much you do know about how and where it was produced. All meat and dairy sold in the UK can be traced all the way back to the farm or farms where it was produced, veg and manufactured goods are a little harder to follow. Vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, I challenge you to do this for at least one item of food this week (and don't make it too easy by choosing the last of the winter greens from the garden!). It may not be immediately apparent from the labelling and you might need to ask your suppliers for some more information, but what better way to connect with the food you are eating?

Once you've discovered where your item originates, call or email the farmer to talk and learn about your food. Ask if it would be convenient to visit the farm sometime and really reconnect with it's origins. I hope, for your sake, that this means a short journey into the local countryside, rather than buying a plane ticket to the other side of the world!

By Rosewood Farm, Nov 4 2015 12:52PM

Food waste hit the headlines recently, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighting the issue by standing beside a pile of 20 tonnes of perfectly edible parsnips that were rejected by the supermarkets. Knowing that a significant proportion of those crops will never make it to the plate is gut-wrenching for us, as growing annual crops involves so many resources such as fuel and pesticides along with the inevitable exposure of the soil to the destructive elements. We shouldn’t be wasting good food and we shouldn’t produce food that is not to be eaten, as the land could be put to much better uses.

Vegetable crops are among those grown on neighbouring farms
Vegetable crops are among those grown on neighbouring farms

Life looks a little different on the other side of the hedge
Life looks a little different on the other side of the hedge

I care deeply about the landscapes & environment around us and I’m excited to be building biodiversity, feeding more people and putting life back into our soils here at Rosewood.

World population may be rising but we are still manage to grow so many vegetables that we eat only the best looking ones. This abundance is only possible because the UK imports the balance, 40%, of its food requirements from other countries. At the same time society is becoming increasingly aware of the impact we have upon the earth it seems crazy to be producing and importing food to throw so much away.

Meat has received some bad press in recent years with many organisations, such as the UN, urging us to eat less meat in order to cut down on the amount of wasted food. And here in the UK we are indeed taking this advice and eating less meat but the unintended consequences are having a devastating effect on the nation’s meadows and wildlife.

As a direct consequence of land use change, biodiversity (the number and variety of plants and animals in our environment) is in decline. The total area of UK wildflower meadows has reduced by 97% since the second world war, yet we have retained a large expanse of the remaining 3% here in the Lower Derwent Valley. The problem is that despite many of these meadows being protected by law as SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and SPAs (Special Protection Areas), they remain under threat from a lack of appropriate management.

At Rosewood Farm we first started breeding pedigree cattle 20 years ago, with the addition of sheep six years later. Our intention was to develop a low input system utilising semi-natural grasslands to produce tasty, sustainable meat. The method requires none of the artificial inputs that are used to produce the majority of annual crops today and actually puts carbon back into the soil. What makes the present situation worse is that these rejected parsnips would make the perfect culinary accompaniment for our Dexter beef & Kerry Hill lamb.

Bred as grazing animals our cattle and sheep are in high demand from other farmers and Natural England to manage the wide variety of local biodiverse grasslands, from damp, peaty water meadows to dry heathy pastures.

Ungrazed meadows represent a significant proportion of 'unseen' food waste
Ungrazed meadows represent a significant proportion of 'unseen' food waste

The beauty of the Rosewood Farm way is that increasing the numbers of livestock and carefully managing their grazing is both ecologically beneficial and feeds more people. More livestock = more carbon in the soil = more food produced.

The one natural input that has the biggest effect and is impossible to replace is time. Growing plants transfer carbon from the atmosphere to our soils: the regular natural cycle of grass growth and root die-back after grazing keeps pumping the carbon underground and building organic soil mass, which in turn encourages healthy plants.

A plant that reaches full size stops growing and stops the process of carbon transfer. Without the essential grazing, plants do still follow the carbon cycle but at a much slower rate due to the less regular growth associated with mature plants and less carbon is transferred to the soil.

Rosewood Farm’s traditional breeds of cattle and sheep are of a size & nature that makes them perfectly suited to grazing the old Ings pastures and meadows alongside the River Derwent and Pocklington Canal. However, like Hugh’s wonky parsnips, supermarkets have specific specifications for meat which concentrate purely upon size & shape of the carcass so you won’t find our tasty, sustainable produce on their shelves.

Producing and retailing our own produce via our website gives us full control over exactly what happens to our animals and the food they produce. It is much easier to maintain complete traceability and good high welfare with animals slaughtered at the opposite side of the road to the fields they graze.

I have to go and tend our cattle now, but I'll leave you with this thought; in Hugh's War on Waste he mentions that the average UK household discards almost £15 of edible food every week - that's more than the cost of one whole monthly meat box from Rosewood.

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