By Pamela Mason
‘Established in 1861’ is a shop sign that I grew up with. It was one of the things that distinguished our family business in the market street of the East Manchester town near where I grew up. But what I love to see these days are businesses established in recent years. So when I paid a recent visit to a dairy farm in Monmouthshire, I smiled when I saw the delivery van in the farm yard saying ‘Mead Farm Foods Established in 2016’.
The dairy farm itself is not quite as new as that and is run by sixth-generation farmers Lawrence and Izabela Hembrow who, three years ago, moved from the family farm in Somerset to Mead Farm on the Gwent Levels in Redwick, near Caldicot. They have a herd of 200 Holstein Friesian cattle – not large by modern standards – producing 5000 litres of milk each day. During the first three years all of the milk was distributed through the Arla Dairy Co-operative which has about 3000 dairy farmer members in the UK.
Lawrence told me that worked well for them and he says he has never been one to grumble about milk prices as they simply go and up and down with the market. “When prices went up to 34p a litre a few years ago, many people invested, and milk production escalated with the result that prices dropped to 17p per litre. It was hardly surprising and a reflection too of the global market place. But we’re now up to 24p per litre and happy enough with that.”
Mead Farm Foods is a new arm of the dairy farm business which Lawrence and Izabela developed not so much in response to the ups and downs of milk prices but because they wanted their milk “to tell a story” and “to share that story with their neighbours across the county”. At the heart of this new business is a pasteurization and bottling plant situated on the farm for which they were fortunate to obtain grant funding from the European Union Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
The business ‘established in 2016’ is very much a family business in which the young Hembrow children, William and Abigail, play a part. When I went into the shop in the farm yard I was professionally served by young William to a 2 litre bottle of milk and some butter, all home made on the farm. The most important outlets for the dairy produce, however, are the 60 doorstep deliveries, which are made three times a week, and in keeping with the farm’s environmental credentials, using electric vehicles.
They also sell through nearby village shops and the day I visited Lawrence and Izabela were in Penhow shop answering customers’ questions about the milk and telling the story of what they do. Penhow shop sells no other milk now and sales are increasing, despite the price of a 2 litre bottle of milk being £1.90. But as one customer told me: “It means a lot to buy local milk that comes with real values – you know where it’s from and who produces it. I don’t know any of that if I go to a big retailer, and I’m happy to pay more,” she added.
Lawrence tells me they are distributing 400 litres of milk locally through Mead Farm Foods. That is one per cent of the milk their herd produces, but given they have been in business only three months, Lawrence is very happy with progress. His aim is to shift larger volumes through the new business and he is working with the Food Industry Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University to be able to market his produce more effectively. Being located next to the city of Newport which is home to 146,000 people is something he views as good potential.
During the recent BBC TV Milk Man series of programmes, Gareth Wyn Jones explored the crisis facing the Welsh dairy industry. In the last of the three programmes, Gareth showed some Welsh dairy farms which are choosing to add value to their milk on the farm. And the Hembrow family, like those on the Milk Man, show that it can be done, with a business ‘established in 2016′.
Picture: cows and people at Mead Farm, see https://meadfarmfoods.co.uk.