Ian and Alison Samuel farm around 100 acres of rolling countryside in South Devon. “On a clear day we can see across to Dartmoor,” Alison says. “It’s a very beautiful – if slightly exposed – spot!”

Yelland Cross Farm is a traditional mixed farm, with both livestock and vegetables. Alongside fields of carrots, cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, beetroot, leeks and broad beans, Ian and Alison look after a small beef fattening herd. The whole system works in harmony; manure provides a natural fertiliser for the fields, and organic crops feed the cows in winter when they can’t graze.

Not typical farmers, neither Alison nor Ian came from an agricultural background. Both were drawn to study agriculture at university; and after graduating, a tour of European farms (funded by a Nuffield Scholarship) convinced them that organic was the way to go. They returned to England in 1997, and took on their first farm together – where they still live and grow today.

Picking and trimming leeks in the fields
Alison Samuel trimming leeks on her farm in South Devon

Soon after buying the farm, Ian and Alison came along to a fateful meeting with neighbouring farmer Guy Singh-Watson, who was looking for more local suppliers for his organic veg box business, Riverford. Guy ended up founding the South Devon Organic Producers (SDOP) co-operative, with Ian and Alison among the first members.

As well as farming organically, Ian and Alison are members of the Countryside Stewardship scheme. Soon after arriving on the farm, they began growing the hedges high and planting copses of trees, and have since installed a windmill to generate their own green electricity.

“We’ve always tried to look after the environmental side of things,” says Alison. “It’s very important to us. We always want to farm sustainably, and conservation is at the heart of things for us.” Over two decades later, the results of this environmental care are clear in the abundance of wildlife that thrives on the farm. Ian and Alison have recorded 12 out of the 18 British bat species and several rare butterflies, and university students use the farm to survey birds and small mammals.

“You think how much diversity is on this small farm, and then think you could fit the whole thing inside one field somewhere like Cambridgeshire,” the pair say. “It makes us proud to be doing what we do.”