Monday, November 03, 2014

Questions and Answers of Englands first yoghurt producer

When was yoghurt first made and sold at Fordhall organic Farm? I have found the answer to that question whilst working through the clues for the Heritage project, but what about other Fordhall products? It was many years later that Arthur (who was always inventing different products to make in his dairy) started to make and sell ‘Yogice’ and ‘Yogtails’. It was while I was inspecting documents that contained price lists, that I noticed Yogice and Yogtails being sold at pre-decimalisation (15th February 1971) prices. Up to that point I thought that these products first appeared as late as 1973, I haven’t any evidence of when they first appeared, but it must have been prior to decimalisation in 1971.

Staff making Fordhall Cheese Gateau in the old factory building.
How about ‘Cream Cheese Gateau’? Sounds delicious, but when did they first appear on the shelves? Unlike cream cheese, clotted cream, yoghurt and cottage cheese, there is no definite evidence of when the Gateau first arrived at the shops or on the market stalls. I can, however, piece together the clues. When did the Gateau first appear amongst the myriad of photographs and documents at my disposal?  Are there any earlier clues that hint to the future production of this product? Most important of all, what did it taste like? They’re doesn’t seem to be a recipe for ‘Cream Cheese Gateau’, so I can only look at the pictures and dream of how rich and tasty it was.

Thelma straining the cream cheese through muslim
One great discovery this week was a recipe, the recipe for Fordhall Farm Cheesecake.  It was only a few papers in a diary, but there it was! The recipe appeared with many variations including; orange, banana, almond and rich cheesecake. Also on the pages in the diary were recipes for lemon, orange and lime sorbets. I hope that one day someone will be nice enough to follow the recipes and bring back to life a little of the past - maybe in Arthur's Farm Kitchen!

Today I have also discovered a few more photographs. Some brilliant ones are from the dairy back in the 1960s, where you can actually see part of the process of cheese making and decorating the ‘Cream Cheese Gateau’. It looked very hard, physical work and even though Arthur either invented or bought in various machines, it obviously included a lot of manual labour. You had to be very strong in those days, and not afraid of hard work!

Until next time

Gary, Volunteer

It is with thanks that this project is funded through the Heritage Lottery Programme.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Heritage Project gathers steam

Here I am sorting through some of the thousands of scanned articles and photographs

It was difficult deciding how to record Arthur Hollins’ journey from 13 year old farmer in 1928, who, with his mother produced cream cheese from their herd of commercial Dairy Shorthorns, on a farm where the fertility of the soil had been badly depleted, to a very successful organic farmer. In 1975 he was selling plain and fruit flavoured yoghurts, clotted cream, many flavours of cream cheese, Smetana, Yogice, Yogtails, salads, coleslaw, Yorkshire curds, cheesecakes, gateaux, double cream, cottage cheese and many more products. All of these were made at Fordhall Farm and were sold all over Great Britain and even in Paris, France. May was also running a vegetarian, wholefood guest house.

Obviously all the evidence needed in the form of photographs, newspaper cuttings, advertising leaflets etc. had to be preserved electronically. It took many hours to scan the archive material, but fleeting glances at old photographs and yellowing newspaper cuttings gave exciting clues to the enormous tasks ahead as well as a peep into the past.

May Hollins leading the way in the Fordhall Farm Dairy in 1957

Like a private detective from 1950s novels and radio programs, I knew I had to sort through hundreds of photographs and pieces of paper to find those essential clues which would eventually lead up to the true story of the life and times of two inventive and enterprising people, Arthur and May Hollins.
The computer screen displayed thousands of documents which had to be sorted and classified. Each document had to be opened on the screen, cross-checked with the original, named and dated.

Following this they had to be separated into document and photo file folders dating from the pre-1950s up to the present day. It took a few attempts and discarded ideas before I decided how to sort through all the documents picking out relevant facts. Eventually I decided to type out each and every newspaper article, letter and even menu. This is all done in chronological order and takes many hours. The task however is far from tedious because Arthur’s story is fascinating and finding little clues to how his ideas were formed and put into action is almost as exciting as it must have been actually being there many years ago.

One fascinating fact was how Arthur and May went on holiday to Cornwall in the early 1950s visiting his farmer friends. He took the opportunity to study the various methods of making clotted cream which at the time could only be bought in Cornwall and Devon. Arthur went home and experimented until he could produce clotted cream which he and May made and sold in 1956 at local markets. The milk he used was from his own pedigree herd of TT Jerseys.

When did Arthur start making and selling yoghurt? This is one of the exciting questions that I found the answer to. In fact the answer surprised all at the farm because it was earlier than anyone expected. There are many more documents to read and type out, and I can’t wait to find out many more exciting clues to the story of Arthur Hollins and dairy farming at Fordhall Farm.

Gary Kanes, Volunteer

This project is kindly funded through the Heritage Lottery Programme.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween Event Cancelled

The traditional family Halloween event normally held at the farm this Sunday, which normally attracts over 200 children, has been cancelled this year due to unforeseen circumstances. But, all is not lost as a smaller (but just as fun) event will take place instead next Tuesday 28th October.

Unfortunately we have been very short staffed for the last few weeks due to a staff changeover and Becca falling over and badly damaging her knee. This has meant that all the hours of preparation needed to decorate the farm and organise the event for this weekend have not been possible. With storytelling, spooky tunnels, scary trails, pumpkin carving, craft activities, goody bags, fortune telling, apple bobbing, bat mobiles, lantern building and feely boxes, it is no small task for our events team of three. And when that is reduced to a team of 1.5 it is almost impossible.

But all is not lost. Instead our Youth Leader, Mike Price, will be running a shorter activity next Tuesday morning where children can make Haunted Hotels to take home for garden creepy crawlies, plus they can toast marshmallows and chestnuts on an open fire. An event which will celebrate the dark nights for those who enjoy hibernation and help bring light back into the darkness for those who do not.

For us, Halloween is all about the change in seasons, celebrating the dark nights, and preparing for the winter months, with less emphasis on the commercial associations. We are sorry to all those who normally attend our Halloween events at the farm, but plans are already in place to make next year’s event an even bigger celebration of the traditional Halloween.

Our next big community event will be a visit from Father Christmas, carols around the tree and mulled wine which will be held here on Sunday 14th December at 4pm - and you are all invited!

The small Halloween activity on Tuesday 28th October will run from 10.30-12.30 and will cost £3 per child. Places need to be booked in advance by calling 01630 638696.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Championing community action at the Conservative Party Conference

WOW - I have been invited by Social Enterprise UK,as a representative of the rural social economy, o sit on a panel discussing the future of Britain’s Social Economy at the National Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday 30th September in Birmingham.

It is a great honour to be asked to speak at such a prestigious level to champion the importance of social enterprise and community ownership. Although not a political organisation ourselves, we obviously appreciate how policies shape our future economy. I will be pushing for the rights of communities to take ownership over their own local assets and I hope to highlight how beneficial rural social enterprise can be for the rural economy as well as communities, handing power back to those who can really make a difference.

As you know, Fordhall is owned by over 8000 community shareholders across the world. Our small 140acre organic pasture farm would normally sustain one or two livelihoods at the very most, however, by involving the wider community we now employ more than 20 local people year round.

Not only is Fordhall providing an educational and recreational asset to the local area, but we are also contributing to our local rural economy and I will be highlighting this on the day 

The invite came after my visit to Westminster earlier this year. The panel at the Conservative Party Conference has been organised by Social Enterprise UK, the national body for social enterprise, representing businesses with a social or environmental vision. Hopefully this means more partnership working with them for the future and in the short term it means each and every shareholder is now having a potential influence on future policies in Britain.

The flexibility of community-owned structures allows organisations like ours to break down barriers that conventional approaches struggle to achieve, such as the barriers to entry for farming, namely inflated land values. By placing Fordhall into community ownership in 2006 we broke down this barrier and provided a young tenant farmer with a 100 year tenancy agreement – something which rarely exists in agriculture today.

I hope my presence at the conference will encourage yet further, the momentum that is building within the community movement. Together we can make our communities a better place to live and work.

I'll report back on my return....


Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Summer Fair

I’d been checking the weather forecast all week and worrying about the imminent rain that was supposed to be appearing between 10am-4pm on Sunday 6th July – which just so happened to be the exact moment that our Summer Fair was taking place…

We spent all day Saturday setting up and preparing.  We put out signs, marquees, activities, an assault course, a barefoot walk, a hay bale tunnel, marking out welly wanging, sack racing and hopscotch…the list felt endless! 

Volunteers Charlotte and Gaelle setting up the post maze
By 10am Sunday morning (the sun was shining) and all our hard work seemed to be coming together…
We had a few new activities in place for 2014, including a kite making workshop, an alternative therapies tent, a story teller for grown-ups, a drumming workshop, woodland activities and a display of classic land rovers. 

 We also ran our usual activities including tractor rides, tree climbing, donkey rides, post maze, hay bale tunnel, Dan’s Cannons, clay and craft activities, a butterfly chase and of course, our welly wanging competition!

We had two fantastic theatre groups perform on the day. Kaleidoscope Theatre performed an eerie mime called “The Waiting Room” and Shropshire Youth Theatre performed an extract from the play “Arthur’s Plough” – both had audiences captivated.

Event goers told me that they had spent all day at the Summer Fair and still didn’t get round to doing every activity!

Despite being up against the Wimbledon final, the British Grand Prix and the Tour de France starting in Yorkshire, we had a fantastic day with lots of happy people and only one VERY light rain shower!
Until next year....
Becca :-)

We had our own tennis game at the Summer Fair - Go Emily!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Youth Project Fundraiser

Our Youth Worker, Mike Price has been working at Fordhall since September 2012...

...although he has been an avid volunteer since 2004. 

Mike is there, 4th from the left (Feb 2005)

The Project
Mike has been working weekly with small groups of young people who are not suited to the conventional classroom setting, some of whom are at the point of exclusion.  This project helps to rebuild their confidence, self-esteem and focus in life.  Mike has been working on the John Muir Award with them, as well as working to develop their interests post formal education.  Over 80% of participants have gone on to further education or employment!

Knocking posts in to fence off the pond.

The Problem
As with everything we do here, we put in as much as we can in terms of enthusiasm, ideas, time and funds, but there comes a point when we need a bit of step up in the right direction.

Jarrod clearing the pond

During the year, Mike and the young people on the project take part in many jobs out and about around the farm and most of these jobs involve using tools.  Unfortunately for them, our tools are not in the best of nick.  Many have been generously donated to us and over the years have broken or worn with use and have been bodged together a few times to try to keep them going!

Mike with Nathan under the Greenwood Work shelter that they built.

The Plan
So, in an effort to provide better tools for the young people to use on the fantastically worthwhile jobs that they help us with, Mike will be running the Trail Marathon Wales and asking for sponsorship.

The Trail Marathon Wales takes runners through the stunning trails and tracks of the world-renowned Coed y Brenin forest in the Snowdonia National Park. It’s a tough trail and Mike has been training hard to be able to complete it (maybe even in under 6 hours!).

Mike and Jarrod

If you want to support Mike and the FCLI Youth Project with their fundraising, then please go to

Thank you!
Mike with Aidan and Chris

Monday, June 02, 2014

Owen's Post

Hi, I’m Owen. I started at Fordhall farm in late November as part of a work experience program set up by the Jobcentre. It was originally just a way to gain some experience in an office role. But once the 8-week program had come to an end, I continued to volunteer.

One of the things I most enjoy about working at Fordhall is the friendly atmosphere in the office environment. Everyone who works or volunteers in the office is always friendly and willing to offer a helping hand when one is needed.

Over my time volunteering at Fordhall, I have taken part in various roles. During the recent spring fair, I was roped into helping at the last minute and was put in charge of the welly wangling. Which resulted in an interesting, exciting and completely unexpected day.

Also, I have helped in small ways to refurbish the yurt facilities, which have been set up for glamorous camping on the farm. I have helped clean the inside of the yurts and in recent weeks I helped to create a border of mint around them. I also helped another volunteer fill sheets of insulation to be placed in the walls of the yurt.

To help give the flue in the yurt more stability, I helped to dig a deep hole beside the yurt and placed a telegraph pole in it, which was then bracketed to the flue – this will make sure the flue doesn’t blow over in the wind!

The main part of my volunteering work has taken place in the main office. I have gained knowledge on the use of Microsoft programs. I have done filing and typing up the minutes of a company meeting.

During my time here I helped Ben give the cattle their TB shots. I helped by recording the numbers on the cows’ ear tags. This helped to keep record of the cows and I gained knowledge on how to give cows TB shots.

Recording cattle ear-tags

I have disliked very little about my time at Fordhall. Everything that I did was a new and usually fun experience for me. I have made friendships during my time at Fordhall and I have gained valuable office experience when I apply for future office based jobs.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dawn Chorus Walk (Saturday 3rd May) by Volunteer Naomi Boult

Volunteer Naomi
The day started very early for some, and the couple that had the least distance to travel (just up from the yurts) were the last to arrive… not mentioning any names!

We had a quick brief from Paul Rutter (expert twitcher) on what bird species we were likely to see and hear on the walk, then wrapped up warm and set off. Even standing in the car park for a few minutes while Charlotte locked up we started to hear robins and blackbirds in the trees by the farmhouse, so I knew this was going to be an exciting morning.

We started by walking across the Cottage Field, listening in the hedgerows for sounds of bird-life;  we heard several wren with their loud fast warbling and trilling, chaffinches’ descending staccato series ending with a loud flourish and great tits' ‘teacher teacher’ - Charlotte hopes it will be the new call she will remember for this year!
Listening intently for the different birdsong
The route we took went through the Mill Meadow into the woodland and past the bird hide and Forest school area, motte and bailey site and out into the Broad Meadow starting with the South West side and up past the pond and into the House field.

We learned the difference in calls between collared dove, stock dove and wood-pigeon, and the breeding behaviours of these three birds. The walk through Mill Meadow picked up more wren, great tit and other birds including robin, chiffchaff; an easy song to remember as it says its name; ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’ and rook; which nest as close as just one wingspan away from its neighbour. Further along before the bird hide at the edge of forest school area we also saw briefly and heard the rambling chattering and high, sweet whistled notes of a male blackcap in the hedgerow.
One of Fordhall's rookeries

We paused to listen to the birds outside the hide and Paul showed photos of the birds we might see from the hide or around the woodland, as well as something we would definitely see later, the linnet. In the forest school area and through the woodland we continued to hear bird songs including the soft, slow, simple notes of a reed bunting, familiar tones of the great tit, high pitched trill of the blue tit and trident descending warble of the tree-creeper.

As we moved out into the Broad Meadow some young cattle joined us (which terrified Paul somewhat), and we even got a few wet nose marks on our jackets as they became quite daring, I even managed to stroke a nose or two!

Inquisitive calves

At the bottom of this field a male linnet was spotted on the top of a gorse bush by the river, binoculars were passed round the group so that everyone could see what beautiful birds they are in breeding plumage. At the same time, a skein of Canada geese flew over, I recognised their call from previous dawn goose counts.

Paul Rutter pointing out the linnet on the gorse bush

As we started to walk through the Broad Meadow the sunrise was impressive. The birds continued to demonstrate how loudly they could sing to defend their territory, with dunnock, skylark, and both mistle and song thrush singing out loud and clear. 

As we passed the pond we saw the sweetest sight, mallard ducklings venturing out of the shade and across the pond, followed by the female a few moments later. Just then a flock of greylag geese flew over the river and landed in a field opposite.

Bluebells on the motte and bailey at sunrise

We left the cattle behind as we ventured back up the House Field to Arthur’s Farm Kitchen for breakfast, we were greeted by a skylark singing while corkscrewing up into the air, goldfinch on the path to the wildlife garden, swallow sitting on the overhead wires and flying around catching early insects, dunnock and house sparrow in the car park and a buzzard circling over the farm. 

A good walk all round with lots of new bird songs heard, now the trick is to remember what I have learnt and pass it onto other people!

 Naomi Boult

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Charlotte goes to Parliament!

I was recently invited to speak to Ministers at Westminster in London about Fordhall’s successful community ownership scheme. It was a scary but exhilarating day and great to see Fordhall having such a prominent platform.

The All Parliamentary Group for Social Enterprise hosts an annual programme of events in Parliament to highlight sector trends and debate emerging issues and opportunities. With just over a year to go until the next General Election, the group convened a hearing on the social economy designed to examine policy recommendations for the next Government.

A cross-party Parliamentary panel heard evidence from experts across the sector, who highlighted the current operating environment for the sector and share their recommendations for both tackling existing barriers and maximising opportunities for social enterprises to meet the social and economic challenges facing the UK.

Over 70 people attended the session including Parliamentarians, social enterprise leaders and networks, and policy makers, including representatives from our local community farm.

I was extremely honoured to be asked to present evidence to the panel last week. It was quite daunting walking into Westminster and my five minute presentation seemed to fly by. I was keen to showcase the benefits of social enterprise into what otherwise can be struggling yet vital industries, such as food and farming. Fordhall Farm was on its knee’s in 2004 and because the community – you - supported it, we now employ over 30 people in the summer months, something that cannot be said for many other 140acre livestock farms in the country.

Social Enterprise has not only allowed this longstanding farm to survive and to allow it to be an educational resource used by schools and  families alike, but it also contributes to the local economy, by creating jobs, offering experience for the unemployed, and attracting tourism and investment to the area.
It was extremely interesting to hear the other speakers at Westminster too. The clear message of the day was that government has helped the sector over the last few years, but much more needs to be done to encourage the enterprise movement across the country in the future.

A social enterprise can be defined as a business or organisation that reinvests their profits for social or environmental benefit, they do not have to be a charity, but they do have to have social or environmental return as part of their general practice. It is about more that purely profit.

It was clear that Ministers from all the main parties could see the value in social enterprise for local communities. There seemed to be a desire to encourage conventional businesses to act more responsibly and possibly even to enforce some kind of social/environmental reinvestment into future tax or business policy, which can only be good for everyone. We wait to see what the next manifesto’s say!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Celebration Success!

What a jam packed weekend we’ve just had!

The Landlord’s Lunch and AGM on Saturday was well attended with over 50 shareholders who were treated to a humorous report of the past 12 months by the chairman of the board, Chris Eldon Lee.  One of the founding board members, John Hughes spoke about the visit from HRH The Duke of Gloucester and Charlotte gave both hers and Ben’s reports as Ben was too poorly to come to the meeting (he is feeling much better now!).
 The ‘bring and share lunch’ was delicious as always, there was a fantastic selection of goodies generously brought in by all who came.

Chairman of the Board, Chris Eldon Lee
In the afternoon, we were treated to a performance by Sally Tonge and Chris Eldon Lee called “Sheep Tales”. This was an extract of a stories and songs created from a selection of oral histories taken from shepherds and sheep farmers from all over the country.

In the evening, we held our annual Barn Dance. We had just under 100 people dancing along to local band The Shropshire Heroes and enjoying a Hog Roast and some local ale too.

On Sunday, it was our Spring Celebration.  By 7.30am stall holders were arriving to set up their pitch, volunteers were scurrying around the place getting everything ready for the day ahead and…the sun was shining!
Splat the Rat

We created a “village green” set up where the local producers stalls surrounded a central play area, where children tunnelled through haybales, had a go at Splat the Rat, threw quoits and hunted for Easter eggs. 
The lambs were in the marquee, giving children the chance to get up close to them and there were newly hatched chicks dozing under a heat lamp too.

Faces were painted, wellies were wanged and cannons were fired.

It was all go and full of happy squeals of laughter…right up until the tiny downpour we had right at the end, which was accompanied by thunder and lightning…
Baking pizzas in our Clay Oven

Despite the thunderstorm, people stayed on to finish up their clay animals or to have one last pizza from the clay oven, but come 4 o’clock the day was over.

Everyone trundled home with a smile on their face – perhaps a bit soggier than when they first came out, but smiling none the less.

Join us for some more fun at our Summer Fair on Sunday 6th July...See you there!