RUNNING A FARM, a livestock market and a pub are all in a day”s work for self-confessed workaholic David Ball – a man who was told eight years ago that he had only six weeks to live.
David, who farms in Suffolk and runs the livestock market at Norwich in Norfolk, has just taken over the tenancy of a rural pub where he has begun selling the beef he produces on his farm.
“From field to fork,” is now the motto of the 50-year-old who regards the pub business, being run by himself and his partner, Denise Ryder, 45, as a farm diversification.
“We”ve been selling freezer packs of meat to the public for years. We had been trying to establish a farm shop in the area but could not find an affordable location. When we saw the opportunity to take on a village pub, we jumped at it,” he says.
Eight years ago, David was diagnosed as having inoperable bowel cancer and was subsequently told he might have only six weeks to live.
However, he decided to fight it all the way and now, following five years of chemotherapy and 65 sessions of radiotherapy, he is still going strong.
“It was against all the odds but I just would not submit to the disease. I was supposed to be a dead man.
“In 1999 at the Norwich Christmas Fatstock Show, people were laying bets that I wouldn”t be in the market in January and that was the turning point. I was so ill – I had lost 13 stones in weight and nobody ever thought I would come back, even my consultant,” he says.
Born and brought up in the Bristol area, he moved to Suffolk 14 years ago to become farm manager and later tenant at Broadside Park Farm at Reydon, producing beef, lamb and beer-fed pork for the hotels and pubs owned by Adnams Brewery of neighbouring Southwold.
Swine fever forced the farm out of pigs and all the cattle were lost as a result of the farm being in contact with foot-and-mouth.
In May 2002 David went to a farmers” meeting in Norwich called to try to save the local livestock market. It had not been re-opened following F&M. As a result of the meeting, a company was formed to re-start the market and since then David has been the director looking after its day-to-day management.
“We have a sale every fortnight and trading is way above what anybody expected,” he says.
By this time, David had taken over the tenancy of Smear Farm, a 325ha (800 acre) mixed farm at Reydon where he was developing two herds of pedigree cattle, a commercial cross-bred herd and a flock of pedigree sheep.
However, facing a drop in income as a result of the introduction of the single farm payment, he was looking for a new diversification.
His brother had opened a farm shop in the West Country and David had been supplying it with meat from his own farm.
He desperately wanted to find a site to open his own farm shop but failed to find anything affordable so he and his partner turned to the catering trade.
Now, with his added duties as tenant of the Star Inn at Wenhaston, he is working as hard as ever, from 7am till midnight every day.
Many of his farmer friends have become customers at the pub, some of them travelling long distances.
“I have a good stockwoman at Smear Farm and this enables me to work long hours here in the pub. While I am pulling pints I am also taking calls about the market and farm – sometimes up to 80 a day – on my hands-free mobile phone.
“I”ve always been a very public person, in the market and elsewhere and it suits me being in the pub.
“I enjoy gossiping with the locals, who have given us tremendous support, and they also enjoy the beer and the food we serve. We have had a lot of compliments already about the taste of our beef and people are coming back for more.”
David is, meanwhile, keen for people to hear about his battle with cancer. “The message is that you can beat the disease but you have to work at it and be very, very determined. I have to fight with it every single day. I literally refused to lay down and die,” he says.
Ironically, as a result of his illness, he is unable to eat his own prime beef but gets great satisfaction from seeing his customers enjoy it.