Trevor and Jenny Passmore
Church Farm, Coombes, West Sussex
The Passmore family were re-grouping after hosting a beer festival when the Farmers Weekly judging team visited.
A choice of delicious real ales and top-quality entertainment drew 500-plus people a day to this spot at Lancing, West Sussex, for Glastonwick 2011.
As well as all the local brews, one of the popular drinks was a lager called Zywiec, brewed in the Polish town that this area is twinned with.
Trevor’s connections to Poland go back a long way. He was one of the first farmers to bring Polish workers to the UK. “It’s my fault,” he laughs, “that the Polish are over here!”
This is, it soon becomes clear, just one of a host of firsts that this family – whose farming connections date back as far as the Domesday Book – have notched up.
Coombes Farm was one of the first to open its doors to the public back in the 1970s. “We were expecting 200 people; we had 5,000 turn up,” says Jenny, Trevor’s sister.
Mum, Mary, recalls how they had looked out of an upstairs window and seen queues of people waiting to get in. They realised there was a huge demand to visit farms.
They later began welcoming school parties, hosting tours and opening the gates for lambing days – which people come to in droves, attracted by the prospect of “watching the miracle of new life” (the entry charge for lambing is £3 for adults and £2 for children).
Tractor-and-trailer rides are also popular, taking visitors high onto the South Downs and allowing them to see the Sussex cattle which, as Trevor puts it, “seem to live on fresh air”.
“We’ve deliberately kept prices low. Yes, it’s a business, but we’re also doing it to educate people. A lot of problems are caused simply because people don’t understand the rural way of life.”
The family give an honest portrayal of agriculture. “We hide nothing, so people see it as it is,” says Jenny.
It was, in fact, a comment by one visitor that proved the seed of another idea. Someone mentioned they’d like to get married in the countryside and the Passmores went on to rebuild a barn to hire out for weddings and social events.
With a price tag of £1,200, they bill it as a “DIY venue”, with people able to decorate it to their own style and either bring their own caterers or do food themselves. “Our selling point is the blank canvas,” says Trevor, who, as the licence holder, is to be found serving drinks. “No two weddings are the same.”
Another first, meanwhile, came when they opened a fishing enterprise. With farming in the doldrums, Trevor – a passionate angler – dug the first lake in 1990, with others following in 1992 and 1996.
Nowadays, fisherman flock to spend a day at this mixed fishery where the biggest carp in the main lake is about 30lbs (adult tickets for this are £10/day).
His love of fishing – and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject – is a big point of differentiation for the enterprise. In many respects, he’s his own best PR.
Trevor later went into partnership with a tackle shop at the lake and is now considering building a shop plus café and school rooms.
The farm is also the venue for two other less-than-typical enterprises.
Fisherman pay to practise casting on a high spot, which nets the Passmores about £600 a year. “Fishing,” as he calls it, “on top of the world.”
And model aeroplane enthusiasts, looking for somewhere off the beaten track, also find the top of the Downs ideal for their requirements.
“Diversification is the modern way forward,” Trevor says. “If options come up, we’ll always look at them, but we are a farming family at heart.”
* 405ha (1,000 acres)
*Beef, sheep and arable
*Barn hire, public visits and fishing enterprises
The judges liked
* Focus on education
* Capitalised on natural assets
* Mixed diversification portfolio
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards