Sussex is a renowned county for quality farming and breeds with Trenchmore Farm a leader in good food, grown well. Nick Mosley talks to Rachel Knowles about the latest feathered additions to their sustainable farm near Horsham.
With so much in the national news at the moment about climate change, the growth of industrial scale farming and post-Brexit trade deals with the resulting potential to reduce animal welfare and food standards, local family farms continue to champion the highest levels of husbandry and countryside management.
Rachel Knowles, along with brother Oscar and her parents Andrew and Joanne, began farming at Trenchmore around a decade ago. Their first passion was cows – crossing Wagyu with traditional Sussex Cattle to create a premium beef that continues to be the star attraction on restaurant menus across the county including The Set in Brighton and Michelin-starred restaurants at Gravetye Manor and Interlude at Leonardslee Gardens.
The farm’s offering has developed over the years to include Silly Moo Cider – produced from apples in their orchard –, a dabble into heritage grains and now a new flock of free roaming chickens, who this month have literally come home to roost.
"We're on a mission to grow delicious food using regenerative practices”, said Rachel.
“We’re trying to reconnect people with the land by getting people onto the farm to see how their food is grown. We really believe in local food for local people and are keen to involve our community when possible”.
Rachel says Trenchmore will be offering both responsibly reared eggs and poultry meat to local restaurants and consumers over the coming weeks and months.
“True to our style at Trenchmore, we have jumped in head first with both”, said Rachel.
“We’ve a flock of 100 laying hens and bi-weekly batches of 140 Cornish Cross table birds”.
“We were regularly asked by our customers where they could find delicious poultry grown locally. Tablehurst Farm in Forest Row are doing a great job but they're not that local to us. We know that people want good chicken and eggs and we also know the potential the birds have to improve our soils. It was a no brainer”.
Rachel explains that both flocks are in roaming systems, with the egg-laying hens rotated around the apple orchard each day in a mobile hen house so they have access to new grass and grubs every day.
“Our pastured poultry is a step further than the conventional free range system, which allows access to the outdoors but doesn't really encourage the girls to find fresh ground”.
“Once they have worked their magic in our orchard, we will move them into the fields to utilise their pooping power on our crops”, said Rachel.
“By putting both flocks onto fresh grass daily, they're eating a natural diet of plants and insects which boosts the bird's health and the flavour of the end product”.
As a local farmer, passionate about her produce and Sussex, Rachel has faith that consumers and hospitality businesses will continue to support quality local producers.
“If we want to meet our farmers, trust that they look after the land and animals in the way we hope and expect – and eat great food that hasn't had to travel far – we need to buy from them”, said Rachel.
“Local food was very popular in the lockdowns when communities rallied around their local producers, but it feels as if the demand has started to slip again as people are going back to the supermarket. We hope people continue to remember the power of the spend in their pockets”.