Rich pickings – pick your own fruit and vegetables fresh from the farm
PUBLISHED: 08:33 20 July 2010 | UPDATED: 14:13 30 June 2015
Our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk picks-her-own strawberries for tea on a North Yorkshire farm with art at its heart<br/><br/>Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Our food and drink consultant Annie Stirk picks-her-own strawberries for tea on a North Yorkshire farm with art at its heart
Photographs by Andy Bulmer
Summer is in full swing and pick-your-own farms across Yorkshire are open for business and enjoying a fantastic revival due to our seemingly insatiable appetite for locally sourced food.
Pick-your-own farms first emerged in the 1970s because supermarkets couldn’t cope with the transit and storage of perishable soft berries. So, kneeling in sun-drenched fields became a summer ritual of simultaneous picking and gorging, leaving people with the classic tell-tale giveaways of bright red teeth and lips.
It’s not hard to see why PYO is enjoying a surge in popularity again. It’s great value for money, you clock up zero food miles, it’s great family fun and, best of all, you go home laden with baskets of sun-ripened produce picked at its dewy peak.
Wharfedale Grange at Dunkeswick near Harewood, nestling in the beautiful Wharfedale valley not far from Harewood House, is one of the oldest PYO farms in the county. The farm was bought by Malcolm and Jane Snowden in 1939 and up until last year, when he suffered a mild heart attack, 85-year-old Malcolm was still ploughing the farm’s 220 acres. He and his son Richard started the PYO fruit and vegetable business to plug a gap in the market and provide mini veg for fashionable chefs.
Today, the farm is run by Richard and a small, eclectic team. It is much more than just a lovely spot to pick up some juicy strawberries for tea – it’s also home to a collection of rural ventures.
As well as farming, Richard is a successful artist and The Packhouse Gallery on the farm is his creative bolt hole. He is self-taught, although he says he owes a lot of inspiration to his maternal grandmother who was an artist in her own right.
Richard has painted all his life and regularly ends the day in his gallery after hours picking in the lettuce fields.
He has painted and exhibited all over the world and opens the gallery as part of North Yorkshire’s Open Studios every year for two weekends in June. He had his first sell-out exhibition when he was just 18 with his contemporary look at life through landscapes and paintings of hens, hares and cheeky ladies.
It’s fair to say that Richard lives and breathes his surroundings: ‘Painting is a lot to do with looking around and reflecting what is around you. I am very tuned into my surroundings and the way the light changes.’
But when it comes to business, lettuce is Richard’s prime product. Wharfedale Grange sells a staggering 10,000 lettuces each week to the region’s top chefs, hotels and restaurants. It also grows and supplies a limited range of other summer vegetables like fennel, golden beetroot, baby leeks, spring onions and red beetroot.
‘North Leeds loves beetroot,’ says Richard. ‘It just flies out of the fields. We can’t grow enough of it.’
Much like Richard’s paintings, it all comes down to colour
‘Chefs are constantly looking for brightness and sparkle on a plate and that’s why the golden beetroot is so popular at the moment,’ Richard explains. ‘For a long time chefs wouldn’t consider golden beetroot but now they just love it.’
The chief lettuce supremo on the farm is Charlie, a shepherd by trade who’s responsible for lettuce production and harvesting, cutting a colourful figure among neat rows of lettuces in his brightly coloured Hawaiian shirt. This summer, he is harvesting a fantastic range of lettuces including red oak, Batavia, cos, lollo rosso, lollo biondo and red cos.
The farm doesn’t rest on its laurels
(or for that matter its lettuces) and the team tries something new each year.
‘Farming is all about diversification – you can’t stand still,’ says Richard.
‘We are constantly chatting to the chefs to find out what they need and we are happy to experiment with different salad crops depending on how the food fashions change. The chefs like to give us a challenge.
‘They also love any excuse to get out into the fresh air. I am passionate about my lovely leaves, and part of the fun is cutting and sharing a selection of lettuces straight from the field, so the chefs get a real idea of the taste and colour that is going on the plate.
‘It’s always lively and fun – especially with Charlie around,’ Richard adds.
The PYO stall at Wharfedale Grange is a magnet for local food lovers and passing tourists alike, all keen to snap up some strawberries and cream for tea. The farm specialises in a variety called Marshmallow which has a unique flavour and texture and is ideal for PYO, but is not one you will find in the shops or supermarkets.
In addition to the stall, Richard’s partner Claire has established a very stylish seasonal garden shop called The Potting Shed.
‘There might not be anything here that you need,’ she says, ‘but once you have been seduced by the beautiful collection of planters, ornaments and general pretty things, there is plenty that you’ll want.’
So, don’t let summer pass by without making the most of one of your local PYO farms – they really are the strawberries and cream of the crop.
Pick and mix To find your nearest pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farm, try www.pickyourownfarms.org.uk or www.digforvictory.com. Here are a few to get you started.
The Balloon Tree, Stamford Bridge Road, Gate Helmsley, near York, 01759 373023.
Bluebell Farm, Askham Bryan, near York, 01904 798426.
Church Lane Farm, Hutton Bonville, Northallerton, 01609 881266.
West House Farm, Birstwith, Harrogate, 01423 771360.
Birchin Lee Farm, Dronfield Woodhouse, Sheffield, 0114 289 0225.
Eastfied Farm, Tickhill, Doncaster, 01302 751729.
Grange Farm Fruits, Alison Lane, Ulrome, Driffield, 07761 108976.
Lilac Farm, Jewitt Lane, Collingham, Wetherby, 01937 573162.
Birkwood Farm, Altofts, Normanton, Wakefield, 01924 892251.