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Winners Announced for the 2017 Western Daily Press Food and Farming Awards

Posted: May 10, 2017

The cream of the West Country’s food and drink producers and the businesses that make it possible for the public to enjoy the fruits of their labours were honoured at a glittering event near Weston-super-Mare last night.

The Western Daily Press Food & Farming Awards, in association with Yeo Valley, shine a light on a key sector of the region’s economy.

Now in its third year, the competition received a record number of entries, the winners from which were announced at the awards night at the Rookery Manor Hotel.

The evening’s big accolades included the Outstanding Contribution to Farming, sponsored by Smith & Williamson, which went to Neil Darwent of the Free Range Dairy Network.

The efforts of this community-interest company to promote milk produced by traditional farmers who allow their cattle to graze for at least 180 days a year received a significant boost in March when bottles of milk bearing the Pasture Promise logo went on sale at more than 100 Asda stores. The product is also sold through Cotteswold Dairy’s milk rounds and independent shops. Somerset-based Neil has been developing The Free Range Dairy Network since 2011.

Mark Gale’s vision for a motorway services station that would directly benefit people living in nearby communities, and his tireless work over two decades to make it a reality, was honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to Local Food Development award.

Gloucester Services on the M5 opened three years ago, since when it has provided a significant boost to farmers and food companies from across the South West. It was made possible after Mark approached Westmorland, the family-run company responsible for the award-winning Tebay Services on the M6 in Cumbria, and worked with it to set up Gloucestershire Gateway Ltd.

Riverford Organic Farmers’ 30th anniversary year was made even more special when it picked up the Food and Drink Business of the Year award, sponsored by Wyke Farms.

Founder Guy Watson started the company by growing vegetables on a corner of his family’s South Devon farm and selling them to the local community.

Now Riverford Organic Farmers delivers around 47,000 boxes of organic produce to homes across England and South Wales, although Devon remains its heartland and accounts for 74 per cent of sales.

The company employs 300 people and sources its vegetables from an organic producers’ co-operative located around Devon and Cornwall and meat, except for Christmas turkeys, from the West Country.

Butcombe Brewing Company beat strong competition to win the Best Drinks Producer award, sponsored by Grant Thornton. The Somerset-based brewery was set up four decades ago and has risen to the many challenges presented by changes to the market over the years.

Its beers are made with spring water from the Mendips and many use hops, malts and barley produced in surrounding counties. Recent additions include a pilsner.

Butcombe is the first brewer to achieve Grain to Glass accreditation in the world and is in the process of rebranding and expanding its pub estate and brewery team.

The best food producer award, sponsored by the Royal Bath & West Show, was won by Brinkworth Dairy in Wiltshire for a second year running.

Ceri and Chad Cryer use century-old recipes to make cheeses, yoghurt, butter, cream and ice cream from the milk of a small herd of pedigree British Friesians on a farm that’s been in the family since 1910.

Their products, which are sold at farmers’ markets and independent shops, have won a number of accolades, including best artisanal producer at the British Cheese Awards. The business works with schools and local organisations to give talks and host tours.

Tom Appleby, from Bretforton near Evesham, was crowned the Best Farmer, an award sponsored by Clarke Willmott.

Tom runs a 550-strong organic herd of cross-breed cattle, which enjoy a grass and clover-rich diet, and is involved in various stewardship and environmental schemes that have increased the diversity of wildlife on his family’s land.

Tom looks after 326 hectares and works closely with other organic farmers who grow grass and rear livestock for him.

Most of his dairy output goes for drinking, with Tom proud to supply around 50 per cent of Cotteswold’s organic milk, while the rest is turned into Spot Loggins ice cream made by members of his family.

The Young Farmer of the Year accolade, sponsored by Yeo Valley, went to Jack Griffiths from Taynton, who impressed judges with the way he had built a 250-head of Jersey cattle from scratch. The 23-year-old now has one of the largest herds of the Channel Islands breed in the UK, the milk from which goes to Tewkesbury-based Cotteswold Dairy for its Upper Norton range of cultured products.

Jack, who spent a year on a placement in New Zealand while studying agriculture management at Reading University, operates a system of Antipodean-style block grazing at Taynton Court Farm, which has belonged to his family since the 1950s.

It was an especially good night for the Knight, Bellingham and Grayson clans, who walked away with no fewer than two awards after scooping the Best Family Farming Business, sponsored by NFU Mutual in Wrington and Rooksbridge, and the Best Local Food Retailer.

Three generations work together to run Court Farm at Stoke Orchard, near Cheltenham, which has belonged to the same family for more than 80 years.

Over the decades the business has developed and diversified as it’s been passed from generation to generation.

Simon Knight, his mother and father Ray and Denise and great uncle John Bellingham keep 180 beef cattle, 400 sheep and their lambs, 1,700 hens and a small herd of Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs.

In 2015 a farm shop enterprise was added to the mix, with Simon’s fiancée Lisa Grayson taking the reins and her dad and mum John and Phyllis both mucking in.

It sells the farm’s own beef, lamb, pork and fee range eggs, all prepared by its own butcher, along with fruit and vegetables from local growers and a wide range of other items. Promoting the farming industry and educating members of the public as to how their food is produced is an important part of Court Farm’s philosophy and the family holds a number of free events throughout the year, including ‘lambing live’ and Open Farm Sunday.

The award for the best pub, sponsored by Thatcher’s Cider, went to The Bell at Sapperton, in Gloucestershire.
This cosy inn offers roaring log fires in the winter and a landscaped garden and courtyard during the warmer days of summer, along with a menu of hearty dishes that make extensive use of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, including Bibury trout and pork from Duntisbourne.

There is also a wide range of locally-made drinks on sale, including Sibling gin from Cheltenham, ales from Stroud, Butcombe and Hook Norton Breweries, and softer options from Bottlegreen in Woodchester.
The Railway Inn in Sandford, Somerset, will have an extra special reason to celebrate the second anniversary of its re-opening this summer after scooping the Best Food Pub or Restaurant accolade, sponsored by Arthur David.

The picturesque cider house offers frequently-changing menus featuring traditional dishes and flavour combinations with a twist, all made with fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.

Its zero waste and sustainability philosophy means its chefs embrace the challenge of creating interesting and tasty plates using little-known and often undervalued cuts of meat, and their dedication to having everything as fresh as possible is such that they make their own bread and sausages.

Located next to Myrtle Farm, home of Thatcher’s Cider, it’s not surprising that The Railway Inn is renowned for its apple-based drinks, although it offers a variety of beers, wines and minerals too.

The Best Independent Café or Tea Room was among the most keenly contested categories and was won by The Café at Porlock Weir.

This independent business sources its ingredients primarily from Exmoor and the West Country and makes almost all of its fresh food on site.

Its suppliers include Little Oak Farm in Timberscombe, from which it gets its Middle White pork and breakfast sausages; West Somerset College Farm, which provides Exmoor lamb, chicken, beef, turkey and ducks; Black Dog Eggs in Devon and Porlock Bay oysters.

Owners Andrew and Sarah Dixon describe their relationship with their suppliers as “more of a working partnership than just buying their products”.

Farmers’ markets are an easy way to source locally-produced food and drink and can now be found across the West Country, so it goes without saying that the winner at this year’s Western Daily Press Food & Farming Awards had to be pretty special.

The Frome Independent caught the attention of the judges through the way in which it celebrates the best of the region’s food, craft and vintage offerings.

The event, which runs ten times a year, takes over the entire town centre and combines its retail side with live music, visual arts and family activities and draws in more than 5,000 visitors a time.

Editor of the Western Daily Press Gavin Thompson said the newspaper took great pleasure in highlighting the dedicated work of food and drink producers, and the people who serve and sell it, who help to make the West Country such a special place.

Mark Gale, the brains behind Gloucester Services on the M5
Guy Watson of award winners Riverford Organic Farmers
Tom Appleby, from Bretforton near Evesham, was crowned the Best Farmer, at the Western Daily Press Food and Farming Awards last night. Top right, Jack Griffiths from Taynton won the Young Farmer prize. Bottom right, Lisa Grayson and Simon Knight captured two awards. Below, Neil Darwent won the Outstanding Contribution to Farming prize