Jo Cartwright has been farming at Swillington Organic Farm just on the outskirts of Leeds for well nigh on thirty years. For most of that time, as now, the farm has been home to a wide range of animals all of which are treated with care and compassion. This is a labour of love as much as a business.
The one hundred and sixty acres of the farm is part of the historic Swillington Park Estate and the farm does feel like a large rambling and estate with its wide variety of habitats – including woodland, marsh, pasture and ponds – and located as it is next door and overlooking the ponds of the Swillington Park Fishing, a popular venue for anglers and the domain of Jo’s husband. The wildlife which this habitat attracts is equally important to Jo and her belief that farming should be environmentally friendly, sustainable, and high welfare.
Today’ s livestock activities are focused around rare breed pigs and native breed cattle and sheep as well as free range organic poultry for both table and eggs – and Christmas turkeys! Jo converted to organic farming in 2001 and has been fully certified as organic since then. Moreover all the meat and eggs are also guaranteed free range and in so as far as weather – and foxes – permit from animals living happy outdoor lives. To reduce food miles and pollution Jo only uses a local slaughterhouse and has a butchery and poultry slaughter facilities on the farm. Not surprisingly Swillington has won a range of awards for the quality of its produce.
In recent times Jo has also added vegetable and salad production to her CV! The produce is grown in the two acre Georgian walled garden of the original estate – with the addition of a poly tunnel or two. The garden is fully organic and visitors are welcome during shop hours and even more welcome when they want to do a spot of weeding! As well as supplying the on site shop, Jo runs a community supported agriculture scheme whereby customers commit to a years membership and in exchange receive a weekly share of fruit and veg from the garden. Whilst my first visit was, as far as the garden goes, in the barren months of January to March, the sight of hens lazily wandering around the garden, scratching here and scratching there, will be one that sticks with me for a long time.
Swillington is also part of the Higher Level Countryside Stewardship Scheme which helps promote and support the wide variety of wildlife on the farm and Jo has encouraged wildlife on the farm with an ongoing programme of tree and hedge planting, coppicing and reed bed management. It seem strange as you wander around the seemingly idyllic surroundings that you are only 5 miles to the south east of Leeds city centre….and sadly threatened by the proposed route of the new high speed train link to the south.
And all this, up to around five years ago with virtually everything was done by Jo. Now she takes it just a tad easier! Son, Ed is now part of the business doing the marketing and meatboxes, whilst Simon is the on site butcher and Brett covers deliveries and part time farm help, supplemented by weekend volunteer, Pete………and anyone else who chooses to turn up on the monthly volunteering day! As she says, its no longer a solo operation!!
PS There is also Len and his dad who have voluntarily taken on the monumental task of restoring the walls of the Georgian garden!!
For more see Swillington Organic Farm website