2010 FW Awards: Local Food Farmer of the Year finalist – Jan McCourt

Thirteen years ago Jan McCourt swapped the pressures of life as a London investment banker for the greener pastures of farming – and he has not looked back.

He purchased Northfield Farm and based his business around a large demand for properly reared, high quality meat products.

By working with local farmers and taking advantage of a thriving London market, Jan has developed a profitable business with an eye on meat traceability – despite sustaining life-threatening injuries in a tractor accident.

The farm shop opened in October 1997 to sell meat coming through the farm. It was an overnight success which quickly grew into a full-time business.

“Meat is really what we are all about, although we have diversified,” says Jan.

“We built our business around the Dexter breed and helped take them off the endangered list. It was difficult to make them commercial.

“Our prime objective has been to pursue quality above all else. This may not be the quickest route to short-term profit, but should see the business thrive through good and bad times.”

The business has suffered setbacks, most notably in 2006 when Jan was nearly killed in a horrific tractor accident. He is still recovering from the life-threatening injuries he suffered.

But, with the help of his son Leo, together they have worked to get the business growing again. For the last financial year, Northfield made £800,000-900,000 in direct sales of produce.

Leo, a 16-year-old agriculture student, has become increasingly involved in the running of the farming business. He shows maturity beyond his years and manages much of the livestock and farm husbandry.

Sourcing meat from other farmers has played a big part in enabling Northfield to survive as a business and Jan has developed a group of around 50 suppliers.

The core activity is sales to individuals, but the biggest part of the income is a market stall at Borough Market in London. “We couldn’t survive without it – we are there virtually every day,” Jan says.

However, Northfield is mainly renowned for its rare and traditional breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs.

There are about 50 cattle at a time on-farm, currently consisting of Aberdeen Angus, White Park, Dexter and two Highland cattle.

Jan has one breeding bull, a native Angus, and 11 breeding cows which produce a variety of crossbreeds. Northfield also has six breeding sows and 40 weaners.

Animals are reared on-farm and then slaughtered at a local abattoir. The meat is brought back to be sold in the farm shop.

The shop also sells meat sourced from both local and national farmers, which is brought in and processed at the shop.

Jan is a firm believer in the traceability of meat. “All our produce is labelled with the breed, eartag number, who supplied it, who bred it and where it was killed,” he explains.

To complement meat sales, the farm shop stocks British cheeses, locally baked fresh bread, vegetables, and regionally brewed bottled beers.

Rare-breed eggs and chutneys, marmalades and patés are supplied by one small local producer.

Jan employs a team of 12 full and part-time staff and a team of four people in London – and he wants to develop his business further.

Planning permission has been granted to build a tea room attached to the farm shop and he wants to add a new butchery and expand the pie-making business. Northfield Farm is also a recent member of the Melton Mowbray Pie Association.

Jan is also trying to open up his business to the community. Northfield now hosts farm walks, music events, vintage motor shows, visits for local primary schoolchildren, and most weeks, welcomes severely mentally handicapped adults from Melton to the farm.

Farm Facts
• 48.5ha (120 acres) – 28ha (70 acres) on-farm site and 20ha (50 acres) of grassland
• 50 cattle and 45 pigs on farm
• Farm shop opened in 1997

What the judges liked
• Developed farm shop business after spotting market for rare-breed meats
• Meat reared from animals on farm can be bought in farm shop
• Jan is enthusiastic about nurturing his son Leo to run farming side of business
• Entrepreneurial approach to business diversification, not afraid to try new ideas

• For more on the 2010 Farmers Weekly Awards
• For more on the 2010 finalists