Farmers Weekly Awards 2006
Heather Gorringe is the HSE Alternative Enterprise of the Year winner. Here’s why she won:
Combine enlightened management, brilliant customer care and a passion for getting the farming message over to the public and you have a terrific category winner – Heather Gorringe. She has built Wiggly Wigglers into a £2.5m turnover business, which employs numerous local staff, gives business to local farmers and is doing a power of good for farming’s image.
Heather, who with her husband, Phil, farms Lower Blakemere Farm to the west of Hereford, saw a gap in the market 16 years ago for supplying worm composters, but soon diversified into bird seed and feeders. And since Phil (who runs the farm side) had always concentrated on producing seed crops anyway, they soon found that the farm and the new business dovetailed together brilliantly.
The range of products they sell is huge, spanning bird seed, boxes, composting bins, wormeries, tools, ponds, flower arrangements and plants. And though catalogues are still an important part of her marketing armoury, nearly a third of sales come via the internet.
You might think that all this is about gardens and bird lovers and not much related to agriculture, but nothing could be further from the truth.
For Heather’s other passion is about re-establishing the common link between farmers and gardeners. As she delicately points out, both farmers and gardeners can be good friends or dastardly enemies of wildlife according to how they choose to manage their garden or land.
To that end, Heather and Phil host masses of group visits and there is even a weekly podcast on the website, which covers farming, gardening and conservation topics in a gloriously warts-and-all fashion.
Local sourcing of products is very close to the hearts of all those involved with Wiggly Wigglers. More than half of current sales are generated by locally-produced products and the firm has become a powerful catalyst for rural economic development in the area. In all, Wiggly Wigglers spends £500,000 a year with more than 45 local businesses, many of them farmers.
“The population of the village is fewer than 100, so the economic impact of that is significant for the area,” she says. “It’s had a knock-on effect for local businesses.”
The huge success of the new enterprise has meant significant changes for the farm side, too. There has always been a strong emphasis on seed growing, so it is entirely logical that sunflowers, millet and indigo wheat now add an exotic topping to the money-making staples of cereals, grass and vining peas.
Both Heather and Phil plainly love the buzz of activity at Lower Blakemere Farm with its 14 staff, barns full of amazing stuff and multifarious activities. Could Wiggly Wigglers exist without the farm? Heather looks aghast. “We wouldn’t be Wiggly without the farm.”
• Robert Lasseter, Corton Farm, Dorset