WHETHER IT is location, attention to detail or the enthusiasm of the owners you take as your criterion, Broomey Croft Farm at Kingsbury near Birmingham ticks all the right boxes. It”s just 10 miles from the city centre and five minutes from the M42. Once there, you hardly have to step through the gates to see how lovingly looked after the whole place is and how keen-as-mustard its owners are.
Like most such attractions, though, it started from small beginnings. September 1997 saw Val Edgcombe and her husband Andy move from Buckinghamshire to buy a 4ha (13-acre) failed rare breeds farm in the middle of a 240ha (600-acre) council-run country park. He was from a farming family while she was what she calls a “frustrated farmer”.
“We didn”t really start with enough in the way of facilities,” says Val. “We shared a toilet with the neighbouring water park, had a garden shed as an entrance building and catering consisted of crisps and sandwiches. We brought some donkeys, ponies and Golden Guernsey goats with us, then bought some pygmy goats and six commercial sheep. Rabbits and guinea pigs came from the local rescue centre.”
Visitor numbers built up steadily over the next three years, but then foot and mouth closed the attraction from February to July 2001. The six-month loss of income almost bankrupted the business, but it did bring a couple of useful benefits, says Val. One was to force them to look very closely at all costs and learn to trim any excess fat from the business. The other was to give Val a chance to hone her skills at grant-getting.
The farm received 15,000 from the F&M recovery fund, but only after Val had made a nuisance of herself by tireless lobbying of the grant-giving bodies. And she has since managed to get good grants from the Rural Enterprise Scheme and Landfill Tax Credits scheme.
Animal numbers and play facilities have grown steadily over the years. This is not a big farm attraction compared with many around the UK. The farm had 18,700 visitors last year and the teashop (which can be accessed separately from the farm) had a similar number again.
But, as the competition judges remarked, it is a well-maintained and well-run attraction. Tidiness is a bit of an obsession with Andy, admits Val, and the fact they are on site every day helps them keep everything spick and span. The animals all look glowingly clean and healthy, added the judges, and safety and hygiene are obviously taken very seriously.
About a third of the visitors are children on school trips and Val is keen to bang the drum for British food and farming. Broomey Croft breeds all its own replacement stock, with the surplus used to produce roast lamb, pork baps, sausages and bacon rolls that are enthusiastically devoured by customers in the tea-room.