Fresh veg boxes in Daresbury
- Credit: Archant
Faced with a lockdown disaster, Kevin and Jan Dobbs have changed their restaurant supply business into fresh veg boxes for the local Daresbury community
Kevin Dobbs has been looking after dental patients in Warrington since 1986 and opened the state-of-the-art Dental Academy in Daresbury in 1999. He and his wife Jan, in partnership with dental technician John Wibberley, also run Daresbury Dental Laboratory, which makes crowns and dentures and implant restorations for their own patients and for dental practices throughout the UK. In 2018 the Dobbs launched Growing@Field28, a specialist farm growing and supplying micro-leaves to some of Cheshire’s top restaurants.
On 23 March 2020, each one of their thriving businesses came to an abrupt and shocking halt.
“The Chief Dental Officer instructed that all dentistry practices must close,” Kevin says. “At the same time, of course, all the restaurants closed, wiping out that income stream immediately. Within a matter of hours, a lifetime spent building a reputation for providing a quality service counted for nothing. With no patients, there is no income, of course, and we are still liable for all our usual overheads such as rent and rates. Being self-employed private dentists, we do not qualify for any government support other than being able to furlough our staff.
“We just have to wait to see what the next phase will bring. It’s nobody’s fault: nobody is to blame. As somebody who has based his life in science, in medicine, we know that this will be overcome. There will be a point when we can say it’s over. It’s just getting through these times and, unfortunately for us, all three of our businesses are closed for the time being.”
Looking at Kevin and Jan’s history of business growth and development, it’s no surprise this couple haven’t sat back in despair and given up, but are pressing forward with a new idea – and it sits within their Field28 business – one that couldn’t be further from dentistry if it tried.
“We launched Growing@Field28 in 2018, in a field next to the clinic that came up for sale. We obtained permission to build a barn and set up to grow micro-leaves for restaurants. We supply everything from amaranth to red-veined sorrel, lemon balm to shiso. We grow the leaves in a special combination of red and blue wavelength LED light, in a perfectly controlled environment. We only deliver within a 25-mile radius, to keep food miles down, and we deliver the leaves still in their growing trays to ensure they stay fresh.”
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Of course, lockdown has closed the restaurants that bought their leaves from Kevin and Jan, and as we talk there’s no real clarity on when and how they might re-open.
“The micro-leaf side of our business is on pause,” Jan says, “but last year we started to expand the business and utilise our remaining land to grow vegetables. We spoke to our restaurants – Mana, in Manchester, Aiden Byrne, Art School in Liverpool, Chef’s Table in Chester and others – and they gave us the varieties of things they would like, and we built a programme around that. We had planted the crops before coronavirus hit; it’s all growing and ready, so we have diversified and have started a veg box scheme selling the produce to the local community.”
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As growers, Jan and Kevin have essential worker status, which ensures they can go to work each day to harvest and box their crops. By using social media, they have found a ready and keen local market for their boxes.
“When we first put the idea out there, we weren’t sure how popular it would be, but the response has been wonderful,” Jan says. “It’s a win-win: our customers get restaurant-quality produce, hand-picked at the peak of freshness, while we can ensure that Field28 is kept in readiness to reopen whenever it’s safe to do so.”
In no way can the sale of veg boxes restore Jan and Kevin’s lost income, but it is paying dividends of another kind.
“As a dentist I work six days a week indoors, with a bent back, using high magnification loupes, so I live constantly with back-ache, with eyestrain and have that pale, washed-out skin of the ‘always indoors’,” Kevin says. “Now, I’ve had weeks off from all that to being outdoors all day. We’ve had some beautiful weather; I have the best suntan I have ever had and no more eyestrain. I’ve lost some weight and am outside doing physical exercise every day.
“Nature can be so kind yet so cruel, but there is always a balance and times like this help you to reset your priorities in life. Field28 has been a real outlet; when you’re out in the field it takes your mind off things, you can just put your other worries away for a while – but then when I look across the field to the practice I’m longing to get back to where I belong, looking after my patients.”
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