Lloyd grows lots of brilliant organic veg for us: black kale, broad beans, Savoy cabbages, Calabrese broccoli, courgettes, leeks, Romanesco cauliflower and sugar snap peas, all flowing from the fields of his farm near Ashburton, on the edge of Dartmoor.
The family have a long history on the land. “The farm is in sight of the village of Buckland Beacon on Dartmoor, where I grew up for the first 25 years of my life,” says Lloyd, “And before us, it was farmed by my wife’s parents and grandparents for 50 years. It was originally a Church Commissioners’ farm, until we bought it 5 years ago, when the Church sold the last remaining farms on the estate. My wife’s parents are still our farming partners.”
“We were both born into farming families and grew up on our respective family farms,” he continues. “Mine was a hill farm located at 1100 feet. We didn’t have mains electric until I was 16! When I left school, I went to work in the local butcher’s shop and there I developed my butchery skills.”
“As well as the veg, we have a herd of pedigree South Devon cattle, and we crossbreed some with Beef Shorthorns and Aberdeen Angus to produce the best quality meat, fed on natural grass and forage. They fatten easier, with less inputs than perhaps we would have been using conventionally.”
The Stones are relatively new to organic farming, having converted their farm in 2016. “I always wanted to do something a bit different, and I was increasingly frustrated with the routine and clinicalness of growing conventional arable crops, with all the artificial inputs it needed,” says Lloyd.
He saw that South Devon Organic Producers, the organic farmers’ cooperative founded by our own Guy Singh-Watson, was looking to introduce new local farmers to organic. “I went along to a new growers event and it went from there – along with some encouragement from Guy and his wife Geetie, who bought part of our old farm next door.”
“It’s a big learning curve going organic, and we are only just starting really, but are already seeing the benefits of a lower input system. We’re learning that you can still grow grass and crops well without nitrogen fertilisers and a massive armoury of chemicals.” The Stones’ farm is also just down the road from our own South Devon home. “It’s an ideal location; we’re close to Riverford for transport, only five minutes from the A38 – and yet it’s a very quiet valley here.”
After a lifetime of farming, there are still moments to savour every year.
“Harvesting is definitely the most rewarding part of the job. It’s good to see all the hard work you’ve put into a crop paying off with a good harvest. The downside is knowing when to write a crop off, before you lose money on it, or when to keep it going if you can, to recover the costs already put in. Too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, pests, soil fertility… it’s all a different challenge with each crop, so that’s why it’s so rewarding when you get it right,” Lloyd says.
“I also like it when I pass a Riverford van or truck on the road, or see them delivering somewhere – because I know that it’s quite possible that something I have produced is onboard!”