The Barton family on their work at Grassington Farm producing free range, organic eggs
- Credit: Archant
The Barton family owns Grassington Farm in North Chailey, where they produce free range, organic eggs under the Macs Farm brand
Situated within the idyllic Sussex countryside is the organic egg producer Grassington Farm. Richard Barton, his wife Joanna and their two children Finty and Florence own the farm.
“We have one part-time egg collector in each of our three sheds at Grassington Farm,” explains Joanna. “They work four-and-a-half hours each morning collecting eggs. We have wonderful staff who have all been with the company for years, all of them live fairly locally and some have even been known to walk the few miles to get here in the snow when the roads are cut off, they love our girls so much! Our daughter Finty is also great at egg-collecting when our staff are on holiday and Florence is brilliant at finding eggs in places they shouldn’t be, as there are always a few naughty girls who don’t lay their eggs in the nest boxes. Florence even got a Blue Peter badge for her work on the farm.”
The wider company, Grassington Rangers, employs more than 30 staff on six farms, run by Richard, his brother Andrew and his sister Susie and their families. “Grassington Rangers was set up in 1984 by Richard’s parents Peter and Elizabeth Barton. Elizabeth was from a farming background in Sussex and her mother, Richard’s grandma used to be a free range egg producer in the 1930s,” explains Joanna.
In 1998 Richard’s dad decided to hand over the day-to-day running of the business to the next generation, so Richard returned to work for Grassington Rangers. In 2003 Richard and Joanna took on sole responsibility for Grassington Farm and now work alongside the rest of the family in running the other sites. After taking on Grassington Farm, Richard and Jo took the decision to invest in state-of-the-art farm buildings to meet the latest organic production standards and to give the farm a solid foundation for the next generation.
Today they have three chicken sheds, “and each of these houses 6,000 girls very comfortably, with their every need catered for,” says Joanna. “The girls have 40 acres of woodland and pasture to roam in. The company as a whole has 70,000 hens and around 100 hectares.
“The hens at Grassington are particularly fortunate to have a large amount of ancient woodland to range in. Being forest birds originally, hens absolutely love getting up into the trees and finding shade under the leaves.”
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The Bartons are very passionate about good food and have a love for all things natural. “We truly believe that organic food tastes better, on top of all the other benefits to the environment organic brings, and the local customers who visit our ‘Egg Shack’ say they have never tasted better eggs. We aim to stay organic for as long as we possibly can; it’s not easy being an organic farmer in the current economical climate but we love the fact that we have so much wildlife on the farm enjoying the nettles, free of pesticides. We also have rare orchids that grow here, a huge number of deer that roam freely, a barn owl, many bats, buzzards, foxes, badgers and heaps of rabbits,” describes Joanna.
When Richard and Joanna took over running Grassington Farm they were supplying eggs to a company called Deans Foods who packed their eggs and re-sold them to Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsburys. Nowadays, apart from their farm gate sales, they supply Noble Foods under the brand name The Macs Farm. The Macs Farm eggs can currently be found in Tesco but they’re hoping to see an expansion of the brand soon.
“Currently our favourite hen is June. She made herself very known to us by standing at our garden gate making so much noise until we let her into the garden” says Joanna. “She now comes into the garden every day and likes to be near us. We are not usually without a few hens around the house. They’re such great company and love wandering into the kitchen, naughty girls!”
Joanna has a very sweet tooth and her favourite egg recipe is her meringues. “For our 15th wedding anniversary we had a big party and we decided to make it a bit like the wedding reception we never had. I made countless individual meringues, which keep very well in sealed containers and served them with strawberries from Sheepgate Fruit Farm in Newick – the yummiest strawberries around,” says Joanna. “They went down a storm but the day didn’t pass without a few hiccups. We also decided to have a hog roast from Holmansbridge Farm in Barcombe, and when the hog roast was being set up, the smoke attracted an underground wasps’ nest nearby, so there was the poor chef in all his gear being chased by a load of wasps. He got stung, our Florence got stung and then Finty broke her finger all in the same day! That was without the exceptional winds for June, which meant the marquee was practically taking off. We were very close to cancelling as it was like a Carry On film but fortunately by the evening all the injured people were doing okay, the winds had died down and we had a fantastic evening with all of our family and friends dancing, drinking Harveys Ale and eating copious amounts of strawberries and meringues!”
Tel: 01825 723253
Warren Lane, North Chailey, BN8 4HW