2016 has been a really busy year for Free Range Dairy Network. Having established a collaboration between dairy farmers supplying milk to Dales Dairies and Stephenson’s Dairy in Lancashire, the first free range milk reached the market in May 2015. Since then we have been working to grow our network and offer more people the chance to make a more informed choice when they buy milk.
What follows is a brief summary of the activities and events that took place in 2016.
A new collaboration was forged with Cotteswold Dairy, a great family business, run by the Workman family in Gloucestershire, for three generations. They identified four local farmers to supply milk for their own ‘Free Range Milk’ line, bearing the Pasture Promise logo. We are so pleased they have become a part of the Free Range Dairy Network, offering great tasting free range milk across the south of England.
Cotteswold Dairy arranged a meeting for us with dairy supplier Foodspeed, in London, to look at opportunities to supply free range milk to hotels and restaurants in the city. MD, Bobby Bawa, decided to offer the milk to his customers and began supplying prestigious customers like the Cavendish Hotel and the Hospital Club. Foodpseed are dairy suppliers with a Royal Warrant and are approved Sustainable Restaurant Association suppliers. It is thanks to people like Bobby, who are willing to give free range milk a go, that we are winning recognition for the Pasture Promise logo and the values it represents.
As the dairy crisis deepened a mass rally was organised to take place in London on March 23rd, where desperate dairy farmers protested at low milk prices. But on that same day, we organised a rather different event in the village of Elmore, in Gloucestershire. We filmed the cows being turned out to grass for the first time that spring, on a Free Range Dairy Farm, belonging to Jerry & Jenny Hobbs. We wanted to show people the joy of cows being let out to graze and encourage them to think about how the choices they make, when buying milk and dairy, impact upon the lives of cows and farmers.
On Sunday 3rd April, Free Range Dairy Network was featured on BBC Countryfile, comparing and contrasting the kind of farming system we advocate with a herd of 1,700 cows that are housed all year round. It was a great opportunity to tell people about the simple concept of free range milk and the aims of our organisation. An unprecedented response on social media followed, with many people shocked to find that their milk doesn’t always come from cows in fields.
Our Free Range Milk pioneers in the North West, Stephenson’s Dairy celebrated 1 year since converting all of their milk to free range and Chris & Steph Stephenson were beginning to get the recognition they deserved for their commitment to keeping cows in fields and rewarding farmers with a fair price for their milk. They took a big risk with their business in 2015, when they made decision to switch all of the milk they supplied to free range back and it was that decision what allowed us to start offering people a more informed choice when they buy milk. In 2016 they have won growing recognition for delivering great tasting milk from cows in fields and have built a growing following in Lancashire, Cumbria and Manchester.
Jerry & Jenni Hobbs hosted our first Free Range Dairy farm tour, in Gloucestershire on June 9th and guests came from Gloucestershire, London and Bristol, to meet the cows and people that produce great tasting free range milk. The event was supported by the Sustainable Restaurants Association (SRA) and international animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection (WAP). It was a glorious day and chefs, retailers and caterers enjoyed a day out on the farm that included a wonderful lunch prepared by Jenni.
July was a really busy month for us. I was asked to submit a short piece for Jamie’s Food Revolution website about the problems facing dairy farmers and the work Free Range Dairy is doing to add badly needed value to milk at the farm gate. On a very hot day in Yorkshire we did a dummy run through our Producer Standards, on Stephen Coates’s farm, with Roger Briddock from the independent certification body NSF and we held our first grass workshop for farmers at Staverton Court Farm in Gloucestershire, kindly hosted by Robert Newton and his family.
To round off a great month, Cotteswold Dairy were awarded a Great Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Food for their Free Range Whole Milk, deserved recognition for such great milk from the fields of Gloucestershire!
I joined Roseanne and her team from Cotteswold Dairy at the first ever BBC Countryfile Live show, at Blenheim Palace. It was a hugely successful event with thousands attending over 4 days. We gave out samples of free range milk and made fantastic milkshakes with it too. The feedback was so positive and it was quite apparent people really could taste the difference.
We also had a busy time in Yorkshire, in August, with our first Free Range Dairy farm tour taking place at Stephen & Rachel Coates’s farm. University caterers, coffee shop owners and doorstep milkmen came along to enjoy another glorious day on the farm. Dales Dairies also announced the launch of their own free range milk, Freedom, at this time, adding to the labels carrying the Pasture Promise logo. A number of milkmen supplied by Dales Dairies have since made the Pasture Promise and switched their entire rounds to free range.
We returned to Stephen and Rachel’s farm once again at the end of August to do some filming with a well know farmer called Jimmy Doherty. All will be revealed in the new series of Jamie & Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast in January.
A little further south a great family dairy business, from just outside the city of Sheffield, joined our network. Our Cow Molly are well known for their delicious ice cream and ‘super-fresh’ milk, all over Sheffield. The Andrew family have established an enviable reputation and now process milk from their own cows and two neighbouring farms. Eddie Andrew is a great communicator and does much to promote milk and dairy farming. His efforts were recognised at the 2016 BBC Food & Farming Awards, where Our Cow Molly scooped the Future Food Award, beating fast food giant McDonald’s. Our Cow Molly are now applying the Pasture Promise logo to their new butter, as well as liquid milk.
East London dairy suppliers Jones Brothers gave our cause a significant boost in September, when they decided to switch all of their standard milk to free range. After attending our farm tour in June, Henry Jones and his son in law Stephen decided they wanted to offer people working in offices across London great tasting free range milk from Cotteswold Dairy. We are proud to have them as part of our network.
Roger Briddock from NSF International, carried out the first independent assessment of Free Range Dairy Producer Standards on three farms in Yorkshire. A really important step for us in building integrity in the Pasture Promise logo. I was delighted to present Stephen Coates with the first Free Range Dairy producer certificate. We are now working with NSF to update the standards and improve the guidance for assessors.
Down south, we held another farm tour in Gloucestershire and were blessed with yet more fine weather. I also enjoyed a short stay in Southend on Sea for a spot more filming for television.
October was actually a bit quieter than most months in 2016. But there’s always plenty of correspondence to catch up on, alterations to the website to discuss and a chance to get out and talk to farm discussion groups about the work we do and the opportunities we are creating for free range milk producers. I spoke to groups both on the Isle of Wight and in Sussex and it’s great to hear what others are doing to try and move their farm businesses forward. It was a privilege to sit next to Stephen ‘The Moo Man’ Hook at dinner one evening and to learn something of his experiences in selling raw milk.
Carol went along to a meeting of the Food Research Collaboration whose role is to facilitate joint working between academics and civil society organisations to improve the UK food system. We are proud to be members of this forward thinking group.
Meanwhile, a number of our farmers began to bring their cows indoors at night as grass growth slowed up and the nights got colder. But, all of them managed to continue letting them out to enjoy the sunshine by day right through into November.
The second Manchester Coffee Festival, known as Cup North, took place on November 5th & 6th and both Carol and I went along to support Chris & Steph Stephenson, who once again, supplied all of the milk for the baristas over the weekend. The coffee lovers love free range milk – it froths well, it tastes sweet and the Free Range Dairy story is a perfect fit for those wanting to choose ethical coffee. We are grateful to all of the baristas and coffee shop owners, who have switched to free range, for helping to make a difference for cows and farmers.
We also did something of a grand tour of Yorkshire in November, which included another six month review meeting with Stephenson’s, Dales Dairies and the Yorkshire farmers. These regular meetings to review progress and share ideas are such an important part of our collaboration, to make sure free range milk works for everyone involved. Dales Dairies then held a meeting for their milkmen, to give them an opportunity to talk to us about free range milk.
We also met Frank Hitchin and his wife Kate, who farm near Halifax. We look forward to seeing the Pasture Promise logo on milk from their Old Crib Dairy early in 2017. The Dearnley family at Barkhouse Dairy, near Huddersfield have been long-time supporters of Free Range Dairy and are already using the Pasture Promise logo on their milk. It was good to catch up with them too and formally welcome them to our network.
In December we met with the team at Cotteswold Dairy and the farmers who supply free range milk to them, to review our first year working together. It was really great look back at how the farmers have taken an active role in promoting the milk and hear the plans Cotteswold Dairy have for 2017. As with people we work with elsewhere, it is so rewarding to bring everyone together and promote a closer working relationship between farmers and milk buyers.
The cows were all inside in time for Christmas and will enjoy the shelter and feed that is provided throughout the remaining winter months. All of the farmers and their families have worked hard throughout the festive period to keep the milk flowing and I’m sure you will join me in thanking them for the commitment they have made to Free Range Dairy, in what has been a really tough year. I hope we can earn them the recognition and reward they deserve in the New Year.
We were busy working on plans for 2017 throughout December and in the time leading up to Christmas and we look forward to sharing details with you soon.