MP Elizabeth Truss praises food network for rare-breed pork near Oxburgh
A successful network of food businesses centred around the breeding of a rare Norfolk pig was hailed by an MP as a future model for sustainable agriculture.
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss was invited on a farm walk at Scotts Field Pork to see the large black sows owned by Rob and Sarah Simonds on 20 acres of rented land next to Oxburgh Hall.
Other guests included some of the close-knit supply chain of butchers, caterers, restaurateurs and retailers – many from within a 10-mile radius of the farm – who have contributed to, and shared in, the success of the farm's produce.
They said customers recognised the value of a quality product with low food miles, and rising sales had seen the farm's herd grow from six sows to 50 in five years – with ambitions to take the total to 120 in the next two years to keep up with rising demand.
Ms Truss said it was an example of how locally-grown and marketed produce could help small businesses to be profitable, create employment and be part of a thriving commercial community.
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'We've all eaten the bacon and sausages today from this pig at Oxburgh and it is of fantastic quality,' she said. 'It has not travelled very far and it contributes to great flavour, but it is also saving fuel and transport costs and saves on waste. So it is a win-win.
'But more broadly than that, I think this is a model for the future of farming in general. Producing the whole thing locally from start to finish and marketing it in shops as a quality product is very important.
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'At the moment we import a lot of food from overseas, even though we produce such good quality food ourselves, particularly in Norfolk. By linking up the elements of the value chain, it will help you promote it to customers and local markets – and overseas customers as well. Food and farming is Britain's biggest manufacturing industry and here in Norfolk we should make more of what we have.'
Mr Simonds' family has kept large black pigs for generations, and he now sells to about 10 butchers in Norfolk and north Suffolk.
The free-range sows are crossed with commercial Duroc boars to produce meat that is renowned for its flavour and texture. The animal is indigenous to East Anglia but has become the rarest pig breed in the UK.
Mr Simonds said: 'The best way to support this rare breed is to find a commercial outlet, otherwise they just become zoo animals. And we need high-standard butchers to stay in business. One of the challenges is the dreaded supermarket turning up in towns like Swaffham and we are still under that pressure. But this is a success story.
'We are all in a niche. I am a small farmer and it's really important that small producers like me can sell to local butchers, and they can sell within their local economy. Without them, people like me would have no outlet for their produce.'
Other Scotts Field Pork customers who discussed the successful supply chain with the MP were John Goddard, a butcher from Downham Market, and Mark Clayton, who has put the meat on the menu at Browns Kitchen in Mundford.
Mr Goddard said: 'When I started selling this pork, my sales started to rise. It is not just the taste. The customer wants good local pork, not something that's travelled from all over the country.
'You can walk into a supermarket to buy things, but you cannot ask where it comes from or what it is fed on. We can come round and see the pork on the field.'