Local Food Farmer Award shortlist: Andrew and Maria Henshaw

Huge amounts of passion and a determination to be the best for their customers are what unites our Local Food Farmer of the Year finalists. Three very different farm shops prove that success lies in showcasing the connection between agriculture and quality food. Caroline Stocks reports

Determination, a passion to succeed and a camel called Kevin are just three reasons why Maria and Andrew Henshaw have fulfilled their dream of running a successful farm shop selling their produce.

Originally from Lancashire, the couple moved to Mainsgill Farm at East Layton, Richmond, in 1995 after they were priced out of the land market in the North West.

Heavily mortgaged and faced with mounting debts on their 23ha (57 acre) pig fattening and store cattle unit, the Henshaws asked a local butcher to process two pigs into sausages in a bid to gain a premium on their pork.

They began selling door-to-door in the village and swiftly realised there was demand for good-quality meat, so they began selling their produce at local farmers markets.

It became the most profitable part of their farm business, so when their relationship with the butcher came to an end they decided to convert their farmhouse garage into a butchery and a small shop to continue the trade.

Situated five miles west of Scotch Corner and perfectly placed to capture tourist traffic, the shop gained custom quickly. Recognising the potential, in 2001 the couple restructured their finances to build a separate shop, including a teashop and meat counter.

What the judges liked

  • – Close link to the farm, only selling their own meat through the shop

  • – Maximised location to their advantage

  • – Strong educational links

  • “It wasn’t a diversification project for us, more of a survival pack for the farm,” says Andrew. “When foot and mouth disease broke out in 2001 and the farm was placed under restriction, we continued with the build as our future depended on it.”

    Luckily, the reputation the Henshaws had built locally at farmers markets meant that when they opened, selling their own meat and other local produce, visitors quickly came.

    Their success prompted the couple to fund an expansion project in 2006 to double the shop size to include a bakery selling their own cakes, pies and bread, as well as a separate 1,800 sq ft meat processing plant to produce sausages, cut meats and other value-added lines.

    As the shop has expanded, so too has the farm as Andrew keeps up production to meet their customer demand. They now farm beef, sheep and pigs across 200 ha (500 acres), plus 450 turkeys at Christmas.

    “Because of the way we started out dealing direct with customers, we have a good handle on what people want,” says Andrew. “We also have to keep our prices right because we want people to come and do their weekly shop.”

    What the judges liked

  • – Close link to the farm, only selling their own meat through the shop

  • – Maximised location to their advantage

  • – Strong educational links

  • With 3,000 paying customers visiting the shop every week, the Henshaws have had to take on 42 staff, 28 of which are full-time, making them a key employer in the community.

    “We have had people working for us a long time and in some cases we have generations of the same family working with us, which is great,” says Maria.

    “We are hands-on in our management. I work in the shop, while Andrew is in the butchery and on the farm, where he has two other staff who are in charge of the day-to-day management.”

    As well as looking after the sheep, pigs and cattle, the farm staff have an unusual resident to take care of.

    “We don’t like to pay for publicity,” says Andrew. “We deliver leaflets, but we are always doing things to get into the local paper, whether that’s through school events or lambing live, where we put a webcam in the lambing shed.

    “We are also known for our hay bale sculptures, which sit in the front field along the road with our camel, Kevin. He was the best promotional investment by far – people don’t necessarily know our name, but they know we are the shop with the camel.”

    For Andrew and Maria their drive to make their business better never stops. They are currently planning a major extension to enlarge the café and shop, as well as providing more staff and office space.

    “In the next five years I hope we will also have another farm,” Andrew adds. “We have to be positive and keep moving things forward.

    “Everything has to move together, because we don’t want to have to buy meat in. I don’t think we’ll ever stop moving forward, we’re not that kind of people.”

    Read more

    Meet the other 2012 finalists

    Find out more about the 2012 Farmers Weekly Awards including details on how to books tables for the event’s glittering London awards bash

    See more