Dartmoor Farmers is ensuring the survival of hill farmers on the moor through premium beef & lamb

Lex Thornely discovers how, with Prince Charles’ inspiration, third generation Dartmoor farmer Colin Abel and his fellow hill farmers are ensuring their future for generations to come
 
April 3, 2011 - PRLog -- In the pursuit of our daily lives, it’s easy to neglect Dartmoor’s striking valleys, its bustling rivers, its endless rolling landscapes. For the majority of us, the moor is a place for a weekend escape or a pub meal with friends and family, but for those who call Dartmoor home, these characteristics are part of their soul, their identity and are now the very means to their future survival.

A trip by 10 Dartmoor farmers to the town of Lenk, nestled among the alpine foothills of Switzerland, was the unlikely source of inspiration for the Dartmoor Farmers Association, now considered one of the UK’s finest premium Beef and Lamb brands. A region reliant on tourism, the people and businesses of Lenk realised farmers were essential summer managers of the mountain slopes surrounding the town. Used in winter for skiing, if these slopes were not grazed properly during the summer months, then the snow was no good for skiing, and no skiing in Lenk meant no tourism.

As Colin Abel, a third generation Dartmoor Farmer and one of those who travelled to Switzerland, explains, “We realised that working as the Swiss farmers did, with local businesses and partners, we too could ensure our future.” It was this realisation, coupled with an ability to take their futures into their own hands, that resulted in the creation of the Association, with some 30 farmers coming together to form a cooperative, helped by HRH, The Prince of Wales and his Farmers Marketing Initiative.

Far from this fascinating story being the centrepiece of the Dartmoor Farmers offering, it is the product that does the talking. Upon asking what makes their meat so different from that so readily available across Devon and the south West, Colin explained “the slow growing, slow maturing, grass fed approach to rearing our livestock gives exceptional flavour and quality. Our extensively reared farming methods result in the meat being leaner and higher in nutritional value and antioxidants. Intensively reared animals fed on grain, with the emphasis on maximising the rate of weight gain, sacrifices all of this to achieve profit.”

It is this slow reared process that guarantees the quality and succulence of the meat and testament to this is the Association’s four awards at the Taste of the West Awards 2010, including the Best in Meat and Poultry category.  From personal experience, there is no question that the moor’s natural vegetation should be credited for the delightful hints of heather and dewberry that light up one’s mouth when indulging in some Dartmoor lamb.

Aside from the unique qualities of the meat however, the breeds themselves add another layer of uniqueness to the story, setting them apart from the usual steak or lamb available at your local shop. According to Colin, who, with his two brothers run one of the moor’s largest livestock operations on the western slopes of the moor, “Dartmoor’s weather conditions and natural vegetation demand a hardy breed. So, for generations, farmers up here have reared belted Galloway cattle and the white and black faced Dartmoor sheep breeds, all at home in harsh environments.”

While some farmers on Dartmoor rear cross bred cattle and sheep, only those rearing one hundred percent native Dartmoor breeds are able to supply the Association. Although at first this would seem to exclude many farmers, it is actually having the totally opposite effect. Colin confirmed, “We have never worked so closely with our farming neighbours, coming together to impart knowledge and ideas for the greater good. This shared knowledge and collaboration is what stands us all in good stead, being able to respond to customer demand through consistent supply.”

Without such critical mass and collaboration, the association would not now be in a position of growth, helped in no small part by their relationship with another Devonshire success story, west country family butchers Lloyd Maunder. Running 14 retail shops across Devon and the South West, Lloyd Maunder began selling the Association’s beef in their Bovey Tracy shop. Two years later and 8 shops now stock the beef and lamb, which, according to General Manager David Carter, is “the best beef and lamb I’ve tried throughout my career, and I don’t care to remember how many years that is.”  

Alongside meat boxes available through the Dartmoor Farmers Association website, the relationship with Lloyd Maunder has helped grow demand and enabled both businesses to thrive. The key to success according to David is “the traditional grass fed approach, the way in which the meat is matured and of course the fact that we can tell each customer which farmer produced the specific bit of meat they are buying. In the time we’ve been selling the Association’s meat, we have not had one complaint about its taste or quality. In fact, more and more people now come into our shops asking specifically for Dartmoor Farmers meat which is testament to the taste and quality of the product.”

Little did Colin Abel’s grandparents know back in 1888, when they moved from Tavistock to Peter Tavy, that what makes modern-day hill farming so challenging is exactly what has helped secure the livelihood of those farming on the moors for many generations to come, thanks to the formation of the Dartmoor Farmers Association.

You can order a Dartmoor Farmers meat box through www.dartmoorfarmers.co.uk or visit a Lloyd Maunder butcher near you www.lloydmaunder.co.uk

For more information about author Lex Thornely and his business - Lex PR and Marketing - visit http://www.lexprandmarketing.co.uk

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Tags:Farming, British beef, British lamb, premium British lamb, Premium British Beef, Dartmor Hill Farmers, Prince Charles
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