Granola goodness in Yorkshire

Bags of home-made cereal help a farming family survive. Andrew Hobbs finds out how. Photographs: Andy Bulmer

ELIZABETH Hird was nervous. The farmer's wife from Upper Wharfedale had booked a stall at Grassington Farmer's Market and now she was setting out her produce, bags of granola, an Americanstyle crunchy oat breakfast cereal. She knew that her bed and breakfast guests liked the home-made mix of wholegrains, but was this a step too far?

'I took 40 bags and they sold out, I was flabbergasted,' says Elizabeth. Three years after that first farmer's market, she has taken on three staff, bought specialist equipment and no longer does B&B - she no longer has the time or the space. The new business has guaranteed the future of Yockenthwaite Farm, where the family of Elizabeth's husband Stuart has farmed since 1842.

Currently they keep sheep and cattle, and recently started marketing their own lamb. Elizabeth describes the farm, on the north bank of the River Wharfe in Langstrothdale Chase as a 'hard farm'. She lives there with her husband, three sons, Daniel, 22, Edward, 17, and David, 13, all of whom want to be farmers.

'The prices we have been getting for our lambs have been very disappointing,' says Elizabeth, 'so knowing that we've got something that's sustaining us and bringing the money in has been so important to us. I don't know where we would be longer-term if we didn't have the granola.'

It all began with an American couple who came to stay at the B&B. They became friends, then neighbours when the couple, David and Linda Finnel, moved in further up the dale and started a business, Bread of Life, promoting wholegrain foods.

The Finnels gave Elizabeth some granola, so that she could taste the difference. 'It was delicious, unlike anything else I'd eaten,' says Elizabeth, 'so I started making my own for my B&B guests. People enjoyed it and asked to take some home with them, and that's really how it started.'

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Granola is similar to products such as Jordan's Original Crunchy, but Elizabeth says that her home-made version is very different. The wheat is milled and the oats flaked only minutes before they are roasted on trays, which keeps in the nutrients and flavour, she says.

'The taste is what's special about it, that's why people come back time after time. There's been a real snowball effect, everywhere we've gone it's been well received.'

Last year they started selling their Yorkshire Dales Granola wholesale, to hotels and pubs, including the Malmaison in Leeds, the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey and the Red Lion in Burnsall. It is also sold in delicatessens, farm shops such as Weeton's in Harrogate, and at farmers' markets.

Four varieties of Yockenthwaite Farm Yorkshire Dales Granola are hand-cooked in small batches in a specialist kitchen built in an old dairy at Yockenthwaite Farm, and hand-packaged in what was once the B&B's dining room. 'Before that I was just using my own farmhouse kitchen. The oven was always full of granola and my boys weren't getting fed. 'We installed some bigger ovens last autumn with the idea of increasing capacity, and they are both still rolling. At the moment we are keeping up with demand, but at this rate we will need bigger premises.'

In less than three years production has gone from just enough for her breakfast guests, to a thousand 475g bags a week. The wheat is grown at Sproxton Hall Farm, Helmsley and the honey comes from Denholme Gate apiary near Halifax. Suitable oats and spelt, a traditional variety of wheat, are hard to find in Yorkshire, but the Hirds are hoping to encourage farmers to develop these crops.

This year they plan to revamp their packaging and website, ready for an increase in production, alongside a new marketing push for Yockenthwaite Farm lamb. 'The way that farming is at the moment, the granola has been an absolute blessing. It's keeping our heads above water and providing us with stability.

'We are farmers first and foremost, that's what we want to be able to do. But if we had to rely only on farming there's no way the boys could stay on the farm. The farm is making money but the granola is making a lot more.' Yorkshire Dales Granola, tel: 01756 760835,