Lloyd Mortimore supplies us with fresh organic beef from his small herd of 120 Aberdeen Angus cows, roaming amongst the peaks and green valleys of Dartmoor.
Lloyd is a second-generation farmer; his parents took on a tenanted farm in the 1950s and never left. With the help of his son Pete, he farms around 570 acres, now scattered across a few different sites in south Devon. Their Dartmoor farm sits at an altitude of 1000m, which means facing some pretty extreme conditions. Luckily, they know the moors like the back of their weather-beaten hands; tracing his family tree, Lloyd found Mortimores in his home village of Widecombe stretching from his great grandfather all the way back to 1620!
The Mortimores rear two groups of calves each year: one in spring and one in autumn, to keep us in organic beef all year round. “We went organic because we needed to find a premium,” Lloyd says honestly, “but there’s so many things [about conventional farming] we wouldn’t go back to.”
Instead of using nitrogen-based artificial fertilisers (which take a massive amount of energy to manufacture and transport), organic farmers use carefully planned crop rotations – alternating each field between grazing animals, edible crops and resting under clover. It takes some hard work, and requires a bit more land, but Lloyd has watched the quality of his soil improve in the years since he converted to organic.
As well as using less energy, organic management also improves carbon sequestration: healthy soils draw carbon down and store it, preventing it from being released into the atmosphere. “I’d love to do a carbon footprint study of the farm,” says Lloyd.
The exceptional standards of animal welfare that come with organic farming are another reason the Mortimores wouldn’t look back. Their small herd grazes freely over the Dartmoor hills for much of the year. In the harshest months of winter, they must go safe and snug into the barn – but Lloyd and Pete grow their own corn and forage crops (such as hay), so the cows can enjoy homegrown organic food all year round.
“They have a bloody good life,” says Pete, standing in the farm’s highest field and surveying the green valley below. “You know every cow on the farm… You want the best for them all the way to the end. The abattoir is half an hour away, which is a godsend and the most humane way. Once there, there’s no massive queue. It’s not a bad experience,” he says.
As well as looking after the cows, Lloyd has some more artistic endeavours going on at the farm.
“I want to show you something,” he says, heading across the yard towards a huge slab of granite rock. “It’s a hobby I took up a couple of years ago after I needed a headstone making for my father and called a stonemason out, then I thought, I could have a go at that.”
Using stones that lie unused on the surrounding land, Lloyd carves striking name signs for other farms, as well as other stone creations – including the giant face that is built into one of the farm’s walls, smiling at passers-by on the adjoining road.
“A smile is contagious,” says Lloyd. “It’s like a yawn. If you smile, somebody else will smile. There need to be more smiles.”