Jody Scheckter and his Laverstoke Park Farm
- Credit: Archant
From his Laverstoke Park Farm estate former Formula One world champion Jody Scheckter now has his eyes on a different prize
It's been 40 years since Jody Scheckter topped the dizzying heights of Formula One racing, becoming world champion in 1979 and joining an impressive list of the sport's great and good at a mere 29 years of age.
Retiring from the circuit just a year later, he went on to mastermind a million-dollar company in America making simulators to train police and subsequently the military, all set up from his kitchen table. These days Jody can often be found cosying up to the many buffalo on his 2,500 acre bio-dynamic and organic farming estate at Laverstoke Park Farm, trading the fast lane for farm tracks. It's a far cry from the high-octane world of motor racing so how did this so-called enfant terrible of the racing world end up swapping Ferraris for tractors?
"The business I set up was very successful after 12 years and that's how I could afford to start up the farming, the factory and everything. I've always done a lot of exercise and been a foodie," Jody explains. "I went around the world, attended lectures and got books from the beginning of the last century and came to my own conclusion about how I could produce the healthiest food for my family."
Building a business from the ground up had already proven to be a successful enterprise for Jody and, always hungry for a challenge, what started off as a hobby offered the perfect opportunity to change direction. It was a gift of a book on organic farming from Jody's wife, Clare, which triggered his passion for producing the "best tasting healthiest food without compromise" as he describes it.
"I went to the extremes in every single way, a bit like when you develop a Formula One car. You can't just say this is good, you've got to go through every single element of that car. If you get that all right, then you get a fast car. It's the same with food."
Taking his new found enthusiasm for farming to the next level, Jody began growing a food and farming empire with the aim of producing almost every product he could from scratch, with strict organic credentials.
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"I look at us as natural farmers. We follow nature. After all my research, I followed nature very strictly and I have two main keys - slow-growing animals and plants are generally healthy and taste better, using old varieties. Then biodiversity is the key to a healthy nature environment and that's absolute."
Quick to learn and doggedly determined to excel at everything he turns his hands to, his efforts at achieving his goal of producing the best, tastiest food without compromise have seen him winning awards to setting up his own university of organics, combining 21st century scientific research with farming principles from the past. Together with Clare he has set up an education centre at the farm, with a view to helping to spread the word to all generations about the importance of natural farming, healthy eating and animal welfare. The farm even produces its own compost, as well as organic lager and sparkling wine. To say that Jody is driven would be an understatement.
"I always say I love winning and I hate losing which is probably right," he smiles. "There was no sense for me in doing something that everybody was doing. I wanted to do it better in every way. I don't know where I got that disease from but that's the way I've gone about basically everything in my life."
However, like the ups and downs of a Formula One season, things don't always quite go to plan. Producing such high-end consumables requires considerable volume in order to keep a farming business such as Laverstoke afloat and, more importantly, sustainable. As Jody acknowledges, it's been a steep learning curve but one which he hasn't shied away from, even when the tricky business of maintaining profitability and sustainability threatened to compromise his original goals for the farm.
"The farm has changed dramatically from a farming point of view," he says. "Now the farm is much more of a dairy farm than anything with our buffalo milk. We do a lot of sheep and sell them like any other farm. We've become more of a normal farm now than we ever were." When it comes to describing his legacy at Laverstoke, Jody shares a more pragmatic opinion, offering a brief flicker of that innate desire to win in his personality. "In the beginning, I didn't really know what I was doing," Jody admits. "I started out doing it for myself and my family - a lot of it has come back to that. I'm proud that it's now become profitable but I would have liked to have achieved that much earlier."
It's clear that even when it comes to farming, Jody is looking to make his mark as a champion. Earlier in the year he challenged the head of a consortium of buffalo mozzarella producers in Campania, Italy to a head-to-head taste test with Laverstoke's homegrown mozzarella. The Cheese Prix which drew much attention in the press showed that Laverstoke could hold its head high even when up against the biggest mozzarella producers on their own soil. Jody's buffalo milk ice cream also received a good deal of praise.
Whether it's looking back on an illustrious racing career or being a successful businessman, Jody is a man who lives in the moment, keen to be recognised not for former glories but for what he is achieving in the present.
"I've never been nervous to take on anything and I've always looked at what I want to do and not how I'm going to get there. It's a fault sometimes as it's much harder," he confesses. "I always wanted to put the F1 stuff aside when it came to this because I felt it didn't gain me any respect for what I was doing now."
Despite the farm taking up much of his time, Jody still manages to indulge in his love of fast cars especially when it comes to getting back behind the wheel at the annual family music and motoring festival, CarFest, hosted each year at Laverstoke and founded by friend and fellow car enthusiast Chris Evans. This year, Jody's racing accolade was even celebrated with a display and demonstration of 30 carefully curated cars, representing the history of Grand Prix racing from the turn of the last century to the present day. It seems old habits die hard. The question on everyone's lips - what does the future hold for this former Formula One world champion turned farmer?
Jody pauses for a moment and says: "The whole thing has been a journey. I've done so much in my life and had so much experience in so many different things." He smiles, "I don't think I'll ever retire." Judging by his performance over the past 40 years, he may well be right about that.
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