In our ‘meet the owner’ miniseries, we’ve been talking to the brilliant people at the grass roots of the UK’s local food revolution. This time, we spoke to Alison Park of Low Sizergh Barn, a 341-acre dairy farm that has deftly adapted to the modern food scene. It has become an experience farm showcasing hyper-local food, and now welcomes 100,000 visitors a year.
How did Low Sizergh Barn begin?
We’re a family farm on the A591 at southern threshold of the Lake District National Park not far from the M6. We started welcoming people onto the farm to pick strawberries in the mid-1980s. There’s a long tradition in our wider farming family of taking produce from farm to customer. Milk, cheese, butter and vegetables were taken by horse & trap then vehicles to local towns & villages. After a while, we started inviting people to come to the farm instead
How has the business grown?
From a shack in the strawberry field we moved into the farm’s characterful late 17th century Westmorland stone barn in 1991. Its nooks and crannies are filled with farm, local and regional food and drink, gifts, natural fibre clothing and local crafts, and our café overlooks the milking parlour (see the menu here). We have more recently added a farm trail with a flower fairy doors to spot, where you can see where your food comes from. Growing Well, a mental health charity growing organic vegetables is now based on the farm too.
Customers enjoy raw milk straight from the cows from a vending machine just a few meters from where the cows are milked and we have pastured eggs which were given a National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award 2018.
In September all our farm produce will be organic.
What’s your food philosophy?
Farmers manage our wonderful Lake District landscape – the national park is of such significance that it was given UNESCO world heritage status. This area and good food and farming in general can be supported by people choosing to come here and eat local, find out where their food is from, how the animal was raised, whether it’s in season; it’s part of the culture of the place.
We’re a local producer and we are a shop window for lots of other small producers in the area. We’re interdependent, part of the fabric of our communities and vital to what makes this place special.
What makes Low Sizergh a special place to stop?
It’s really convenient – you can pop in, be nourished in the widest sense of the word and be on your way. Because we’re a working farm our visitors get a very immediate insight into farming, food and the countryside. We make, serve and sell really good food – from raw milk straight from the cows to wild rabbit pie, farm-grown organic salad leaves to sticky toffee pudding. You can watch the cows being milked every afternoon around 3.30pm, choose a little something to take home from our lovely selection of gifts and stretch your legs on the farm trail before resuming your journey.
Much of the local produce we have in the shop can’t be found anywhere else, so it’s a special place to pick up treats for the road or to return home with. Cumbria has a fantastic array of food, some with special status like Cumberland Sausage, the Lyth Valley Damson, Herdwick lamb and Morecambe Bay Shrimp.
What were you doing before this?
Three generations currently work on the farm; my family have been farming in Cumbria for generations. We all have different experiences and contribute something different. I longed to get away as a teenager and then couldn’t wait to get back. My sons are the same!
What makes running an independent business rewarding?
We’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people who supply us with food and drink that can be sourced right here in Cumbria.
I have to remind myself that most people live in urban areas and don’t get to pat cows or see contraptions like our egg mobile full of hens so what I take for granted is really quite remarkable.
We also have a great team of staff that make the farm busy and vibrant and fun.
What do you do to relax?
I cycle over the fell from home to the farm every day and go out for long rides when I can. There are so many fantastic routes, and if the hills get too much there’s always a fabulous cake stop in the next valley.
What’s your favourite car snack?
We bake a tremendous range of cakes in the farm shop so I usually stock up before I drive anywhere.