“We’re trying to work with biodiversity here, creating something sustainable and integrated,” says Kate Maciver-Redwood. “Somewhere that everything has its place: the animals produce manure to fertilise the veg, and in turn we produce as much feed as we can on site for the animals in winter.” We have this traditional mixed system to thank for organic purple sprouting broccoli, kale, cauliflowers, leeks and romanesco, as well as beef and lamb.
Haye Farm is located on the Cornish bank of the River Tamar, part of the National Trust’s Cotehele Estate: a medieval site with an agricultural history stretching back to before the Norman conquest. When Kate and Andrew first became tenants, things weren’t quite so harmonious as they are now…
“We started the tenancy agreement with the National Trust in the autumn of the year 2000, at a time when the country was burning pyres of shot cattle,” the pair say.
The foot-and-mouth disease crisis was at its peak; a challenging time to become a cattle farmer. Not to be deterred, Kate and Andy started converting the farm to organic. Soon they were rearing 100 Lleyn sheep, and a small herd of organic South Devon beef cattle, made up of a bull called Ferdinand (named for the classic children’s book) and his harem of cows.
Welfare is a top priority for the Maciver-Redwoods at every stage of their animals’ lives. “We use a local abattoir, so all our animals are born and bred on the farm, and then taken just about an hour up the road,” says Kate. “They don’t get transported far.”
While on the farm, the animals enjoy as natural and healthy a life as possible. Sheep roam and graze outside all year long; the cows remain on the meadows until the rough winter weather arrives, when they are kept cosy inside and fed homegrown organic hay, haylage and silage.
Soon Kate and Andy decided that they wanted to venture into the world of veg. “The Tamar Valley was once really well known for its orchards and market gardens. But so much of that has been scrubbed out now, and we wanted to be part of a regenerative process in the area,” says Kate.
The pair approached the South Devon Organic Producers (SDOP) co-operative, founded by Riverford’s Guy Singh-Watson, and have been growing for us ever since.
All this beautiful food has won the Maciver-Redwoods some mighty acclaim. Their broad beans, Charlotte potatoes, beef and lamb won them a National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award, and their lamb was chosen by twice-Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw to be cooked on the BBC’s Great British Menu, celebrating some of the nation’s best food producers!
Sustainability was at the heart of Kate and Andrew’s decision to move to Haye. They are members of the Higher-Level Stewardship Scheme (previously the Countryside Stewardship Scheme), growing hedgerows and wide field margins where wildlife can thrive. Through a scheme with Natural England, they allow the fresh water running down their valley towards the River Tamar to create pools; a haven for wetland-loving creatures such as waterfowl (including sightings of the rare bittern) and voles.
“We arrived intending to honour and join Nature's dance, working with her. We endeavour to learn something of her fine balance (if somewhat clumsily!), and how to become custodians of this beautiful countryside.”