Eat British ... but not organic!

Posted on: 14 July 2011 by Michael Wale

Michael Wale talks to Ladies in Pigs campaigner and farmer Jane Tomlinson about the challenges of running her own business and the cost of the organic market.

Jane Tomlinson

It is often said that you never meet a happy farmer, because they usually have a grumble, often quite rightly, about the weather or the price they get for what they produce.

But Jane Tomlinson (45) is an exception to the cliché. She farms 180 pigs in the open air on a 185 farm in Lincolnshire that she shares with her husband Terry.  She is very particular how her pigs are treated and believes very much that British people should eat British pork .

Twelve years ago, she was to be found on the dockside at nearby Immingham protesting against the importation of Danish pork. Her big argument was that at the time Danish pork was being imported and then trucked up the road to a factory where it was cut up and marketed as British pork. Times and rules have now changed. The pork is still imported but no longer allowed to be re-sold as British.

Jane remembers those times saying: “It is ridiculous, we were allowed to stop one lorry of Danish pork by the police. It was ridiculous that it could be marketed as British just because it passed through a local factory”. It was an experience that depressed her so much that she vowed to launch her own local pork campaign with £1000 of her own money to buy the pigs off her husband and produce leaflets. She also set up the Lincolnshire Farmers’ Markets movement, because there were no farmers markets in Lincolnshire back then, or, amazingly, in neighbouring counties Nottinghamshire or Yorkshire.

After a few years, she combined with her husband and built up an outdoor-reared, quality pork based business that now turns over £750,000.

She was offered deals with the likes of Waitrose and Tesco but turned them all down, preferring to remain local and in touch with her customers: “I realised that as far as supermarkets were concerned - they were ruled only by the cheapest they could buy at.”

Walking around her farm with her, I am able to enjoy watching her pigs rolling in the Lincolnshire sandy soil, continually guzzling the ever present clean water and eating when they liked from the ever plentiful hoppers, so they do not all have to rush for their food at feeding time, as on many other farms.

Mind you I did wonder why the pork these pigs become in pies, sausages, and all the bits and pieces of meat, was not labelled organic. Surely she was missing out on the premium price market? Jane was adamant in her reply : “The only thing we would have to change to become organic would be the feed we use. It would be four times more expensive. It would have changed what we were trying to do with avoiding confusion with our customers. I never wanted to set out to have an elitist product that you would only see on the shelves of Waitrose. The organic feed would have affected the final price”.

Both she and husband Terry are huge believers in animal welfare. Most farmers, contrary to popular belief, believe in the welfare of the animals that provide them with their living.

But the good thing for their pigs is that their final hours do not bring them stress or strain, because they are killed in a local abattoir a mere 20 miles away, and always travel there first thing in the morning when all is quiet and relaxed. The abattoir is part of a local butcher they have known for many years. 

In the beginning she had to campaign to encourage the public to eat British and more especially local pork. She was fighting a multi million pound campaign from the Danish bacon industry, but with her leaflets and a group of women who called themselves Ladies In Pigs she gradually swing the pendulum of consumer power.

Ladies In Pigs toured the nations supermarkets demanding that the supermarkets placed the British product at the best level to sell it, not on the bottom shelf. They also ran cooking demonstrations on how to cook pork.

Even now when her pig business is a huge success and brought her many gold medals in various competitions she sticks to strict rules that she set up when she began. For example, her own farm shop only opens on three days a week, while all around her farm shops seem to be open for coffee and meals morning, noon and night. She says: “Usually people who come to the few hours our farm shop is open come because I gave them a card when they bought one of our products at one of the farmers markets we attend. I have a little bit of a worry about farm shops. It is not actually doing anything for the local or farming community”.

Apart from selling at local farmers markets spread across Lincolnshire’s attractive market towns, she sells on the internet and also to chefs she has met and approved. These vary from the now famous Goring Hotel in London, where her pork is on the menu every Monday after she met the head chef Derrick Quelch and was impressed. Proving that she is not seduced by the famous her pork is also served at a little café in Lincoln, near the cathedral. Jane says : “the owner wanted everything perfect . She was very good at baking.”

 For the rest of us if you order on the internet her produce arrives overnight in an ice box. I must say as an aficionado of the pork pie I can honestly say the one I took home and ate was the best I have ever tasted!

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