Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience


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Everything is Meaningful

20150312_124025I’m Aimee, and I live in Ardeley and have been an enthusiastic customer and friend of the family, watching Church Farm Ardeley take shape and re-emerge.  And now I’m working in Rural Care.  I have admired what I have seen of Rural Care over the years, getting to know staff and co-farmers as they are out and about doing jobs.  And now I can confirm, from the inside, just what I suspected all along:  Everything is meaningful.  The jobs the co-farmers do are real farm jobs that need to be done. They get to make choices and decisions about tasks and tools and work toward their own achievable goals. I am now part of the team that supports them and helps teach them through these real farm tasks.

Since starting in December, I have been a part of collecting, sorting and boxing eggs; feeding, watering, and bedding animals; herding sheep; making Christmas wreaths; labeling apple juice; and feeding lambs. I have also seen co-farmers take pride in a job well done, lead a group in a task, communicate with others, and work towards personal goals.

We work inside and out, no matter the weather, no matter how much mud.  There is little complaining, and lots of tea. And it’s so rewarding. Each of us is important in the process and the results are tangible and priceless, for everyone.  There is learning and laughter, friendship and teamwork, work and breaks, and it is all so well organised and balanced.

I am thoroughly enjoying my time on the farm and my days in Rural Care. It is a privilege to be part of this team.


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Church Farm Mutton, Vegetable and Barley Stew

Did you see the post about eating lamb in spring?   Enjoy this recipe from our butcher, Tony Hopkins.

1kg shoulder or leg of Church Farm mutton, diced

3 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp olive oil

15g butter

2 celery sticks, roughly sliced

1 leek, washed and roughly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 carrots, roughly sliced

400g floury potatoes, roughly diced

400g swede, roughly diced

500ml fresh lamb stock, hot

400ml carrot juice

2 fresh sprigs each rosemary and thyme, plus extra to garnish

100g pearl barley

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas 4. Put the cubed mutton in a large bowl, add the flour and season. Toss well.

Put a large casserole over a high heat. Add the oil and brown the mutton in batches.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the butter. Stir in the celery, leek, garlic, carrots, potatoes and swede and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browning a little. Pour in the lamb stock and carrot juice, then add the rosemary and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, until tender.

Stir in the pearl barley 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, so it absorbs the juices and becomes tender. The stew should be thick and juicy. Season, garnish with rosemary and thyme and serve with rustic bread.


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Is Easter the best time to eat lamb?

leg of lambIn my opinion (I’m Tony, the butcher), lamb for Easter is all wrong.  While “spring lamb” has undoubted marketing appeal for supermarkets, spring is when lambs are meant to be born. So what are you eating? In fact, when you buy “spring lamb,” you get animals that were born in the autumn, specifically for the Easter market. Mostly they are reared indoors, with their mothers, who often continue to suckle them until they reach slaughter weight. Ewes and lambs will be turned out on spring grass in early March, but they’ll get only a couple of weeks to graze before they go to slaughter. The resulting meat, known in the trade as “suck lamb,” is sweet but pale and, I think, a bit porky.

So should we never eat lamb at Easter?  I often eat sheep—either mutton (an animal of two years or more) or, best of all for flavour and tenderness, hogget (a one-year-old in its second spring or summer). Both mutton and hogget animals should have a good covering of fat, which means they can be hung properly— 10-14 days is about right—after which they end up even more tender than lamb, and can be served pink. A few good butchers will sell you mutton and hogget, and both are available here at Church Farm or from our online shop.

So when is the best time to eat lamb, in the true sense of the word? During the summer months, in my opinion. February-and March-born lambs (look out for bottle feeding at the Farm soon) are invariably put out to graze within a few weeks of being born, and learn to eat grass, as well as their mother’s milk, before they are a month old. They exercise far more than indoor-reared lambs, which gives their meat a finer grain and more flavour. Slaughtered in the coming weeks, at five or six months old, their meat is still sweet, but much more rosy and vivacious. This is the flesh of animals that, though young, have lived a little, with grass under their feet and sun on their back.


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The Paradoxical Butcher and the Paramedics

???????????????????????????????At Church Farm there is rarely a day without incident of some kind or another but even by our standards Monday 9th February was pretty unique.

Chicken Dave was off to see the Chickens when he came face to face with an Ambulance and the J Team of Paramedics, Jenny and Jo.

It turned out that someone had been taken ill somewhere out on the Farm and had called 999, a walker somewhere amongst the 175 acres of glorious countryside that encompasses the Farm including public byways and bridleways.

The weather has been bad and the mud meant the Ambulance would not be able to get any closer than the car park.

Fear not, for around the corner in the Four by Four Barbarian came our hero, Will the Paradoxical Butcher.

Why Paradoxical?  Well Will keeps Chickens and Ducks for a hobby and by day he ……well, he is a butcher.

With the word Squitmore ringing in our ears we clambered aboard and set off in search of the wounded walker.  Who could it be?  One of the staff? One of the members of the school group on site?  One of the co-farmers or interns?

One of the walkers Chicken Dave had spoken too that very morning not twenty yards away from where the ambulance was parked, or someone else entirely?

Will is the paradoxical butcher who works in the shop and the butchery, Chicken Dave looks after the Chickens and rarely gets out of the Chicken Sheds so this was an adventure indeed.

Where is Squitmore asked Will the Paradoxical Butcher? Chicken Dave waved vaguely towards the area of the Farm covering perhaps a quarter or more of the Farm and we were off looking for an injured walker with nothing else to go on.

Byways and Bridleways on either side we headed off only for the 4×4 to be too wide for the path, Chicken Dave went on by foot leaving Jenny and Jo from the East of England Ambulance Service in the capable hands of Will The Paradoxical Butcher reversing down a muddy track.

The mobile phones set to work trying to get more information, Walkers from Walkern, Cabin number 8 and Rozelle and Charlotte joined in the search.  Cabin located and access by foot we found the Letchworth Arts and Leisure Group of walkers huddled around a Rhubarb expert!

The J Team set to work and Will slipped away to see if he could get over the fields to help save the day.

Initial tests done we started the fun to return to the ambulance from where we’d begun.

But what do I see coming now towards me

But a great big strong car

And a friendly butchar (Sorry)

He drove across mud,

Like the cows chewing cud,

And stopped for the crew

Who knew what to do.

We got in the car with the ambulance pack

While Chicken Dave got slung in the back.

So off we all went,

The drama near spent,

Plans had been made

And the patient relayed.

Just time to clean boots

On one or two foots!!!

And off to the Lister

To check for a Blister.

The Butcher returned to cutting the meat

But we will talk of this day and of this feat,

Of the Paradoxical Butcher and his time at the wheel,

To save this dear lady, his nerves made from steel.


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From Melbourne to Steeple Morden—A Modern Day Miracle

Darren and the van

Darren and the van

The key turned and nothing happened, the van failed to respond at all.  Our intrepid adventurer from Australia, Darren, who had only a few days earlier celebrated Australia Day in Ardeley was stranded in a place called Steeple Morden.  The call for help was issued and Darren from Oz could only sit and wait but something miraculous happened.

The people of Steeple Morden, famous for its Steeple that disappeared some four hundred years ago came out and adopted an Australian!  Fed, watered and befriended he held on for hour after hour awaiting the rescue team on a cold, snowy icy day.

His delivery van was still partly filled with tasty farm boxes for his customers around the Hertford area and he arranged for them all to be called to alert them of his predicament but what to do with the remaining boxes should he need to be towed away?

No need to worry the good people of Steeple Morden came to the rescue and stored the boxes in their garage.

Church Farm had dispatched the emergency team who arrived around nine to collect the boxes and the intrepid explorer and on loading up discovered the miracle that was unveiling before their very eyes.

The rescuer in chief was not only a hero of Steeple Morden but something more, something akin to the spirit of the Farm. He was the Secretary of the local Remap team who design and make innovative solutions for the disabled.

What does Church Farm have?  Only the wonderful Rural Care where Care for Land and People meet in the opportunity for those with disabilities to work as co-farmers……what a place to breakdown, what a coincidence……what are the chances…..what was the Oz to make of this?