Piercebridge Farm is as committed to animal welfare as they are to producing award-winning organic produce
We find out why through a swift chat with co-owner Joanna Hodgson.
Nothing beats proper fresh scran, does it?
Eggs that slide effortlessly into the pan on a Saturday morning for your fry-up; succulent lamb joints that melt in your mouth, making Sunday roasts that bit more epic; veg that makes your stir-fry just…pop.
That’s why, here at HLN, we’re suckers for a good farm shop. You just can’t find the same sense of raw, unprocessed goodness in the supermarket. But there are farm shops and then there are farm shops. And the team at Piercebridge Farm just get it.
The Hodgson family have been cultivating the land at this 300-acre farm in County Durham since 1964 – taking their time to nurture the impressive herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle, mixed flock of Scottish Black Face, Cheviot and home-bred Mule sheep, Landrace Duroc pigs, hens and table birds that we see today. All happy, healthy and exclusively free-range.
And you know what that means – one cracking farm shop.
Think shelves brimming with game, meat, vegetables and preserves; fridges chock-full of dairy, beer and wine and a deli serving up homemade pies, pastries, puddings and cakes fresh out of the oven. They even offer homemade ready meals, for goodness sake! And that’s not forgetting their onsite butchers, where the Piercebridge team make their own burgers, sausages, ham, bacon and cooked meats, as well as your classic joints cut to your specification. The best part? It’s all entirely organic.
They’re obviously doing something right. Quite aside from the fact that, every time we’ve visited, the shop has been bustling with neighbourhood activity (the finest testament to success in our book), Piercebridge Farm has also pretty much swept the boards when it comes to their impressive trophy haul. As well as attracting plenty of attention from local and national awarding bodies for their culinary offering – most recently, winning the Local Food Award for the North East in the Countryside Alliance Awards 2020 – Piercebridge Farm are also impressing on the conservation front, too. Which, to many, may be somewhat surprising for a farm.
But for the Hodgsons, there really is nothing that comes more naturally than looking after their environment. Recent winners of the Silver Lapwing Award for conservation and diversification and an active part of the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, the family have planted miles of hedges, field margins and beetle banks over the years – casually cultivating new and safer habitats for hundreds of animal and plant species in the process.
An award-winning, universally popular farm, shop, butchers and deli, producing top-quality scran and dedicated to animal welfare, sustainability and conservation? We had to catch up with co-owner Joanna Hodgson to find out more…
What’s Piercebridge Farm all about?
We’re an organic, family-run livestock farm and farm shop. We produce and butcher all our own meat and farm to the highest organic welfare standards, only selecting the best quality produce for our shop.
Our farm shop provides our customers with everything they need for a weekly shop – from meat, vegetables, dairy and egg to dried and canned goods, toiletries, gifts, wine and beer, homemade ready meals, cakes and puddings.
Farming organically is important to us; we farm with nature, not against it, and produce food in a safe, sustainable and highly welfare-conscious way.
How has the pandemic changed your vision for Piercebridge Farm?
While our vision for the farm itself hasn’t changed, the pandemic has helped us decide not to reopen the café side of our farm shop, due to the many challenges COVID presented us with.
Instead, we’ve expanded our shop and have sought to improve the ranges we offer. We’ve also opened a butchery counter, which is open Wednesday to Friday from 10am – 3pm, and Saturday from 9am – 1pm.
A big focus is now on your award-winning farm shop. What makes the shop so special?
It’s a true family-run farm shop. All our meat comes from our farm and is butchered here to our customers’ specifications. And we have fantastic local vegetable suppliers – The Christmas Farm and Riverford – who provide us with fresh, high-quality produce every week. We aim to provide you with everything you could possibly need to fill up your larder.
As a solely organic food outlet, people may think Piercebridge Farm Shop is a lot more expensive than their local supermarket. Is that true?
The cost of producing organic food is higher. However, we’re not more expensive than the organic ranges you’ll find in supermarkets. I’d say that we’re not a ‘lot’ more expensive than supermarkets, but we’re not aiming to beat supermarkets on price. Our aim is to farm to the highest welfare standards and provide our customers with the freshest, highest quality produce.
You also produce homemade meals for people to cook at home. Why have you opened up your offering in this way?
We’ve always cooked our own ready meals, cakes and puddings and they’ve always proved hugely popular. We’re now able to produce a larger range, as the staff we had cooking in our café have moved to baking and cooking our homemade meals.
We’ve also started our deli counter – which offers a wide range of tarts, pies, sausage rolls and salads. Our staff have really accepted the challenge that this last year has presented us all with and have helped us continue to trade and improve our offering to our customers.
Working as sustainably as possible is very important at Piercebridge Farm – you recently won the Silver Lapwing award for conservation and the farm is part of the Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
It’s always been our aim to improve what we have. Most of our land was quarried in the ‘60s and was left in a very bad state. We’ve planted miles of hedges, fenced off ponds and planted trees. We aim to farm in a regenerative manner, which builds soil and stores more water and carbon; this, in turn, helps us grow more grass for our livestock. We grow winter bird cover for our sheep, but this also provides cover for birds too.
Going forward, we have plans to fence off all waterways to protect our streams from cattle. We’re planting more hedges and also hope to create a community tree-planting project along the fenced-off streams, too.
Your family has been farming at Piercebridge Farm since 1964. What does a typical day on the farm look like for you all?
If only there was a typical day on the farm! Every day really is different. We like to keep ourselves busy and the farm never disappoints. Because we have many different livestock enterprises, there’s never a dull moment. Whatever we do though, our livestock’s wellbeing is always paramount.
And what does the future look like for Piercebridge Farm?
Harry and I are the third generation of Hodgsons to farm here; we have two children who love the farm as much as we do, so hopefully the future looks bright. Our aim is to continually improve what we do and to build and improve the soils on our farm, sequestering more carbon and increasing the organic matter. No doubt the future will throw up challenges (if this last year is anything to go by!), but we’ll adapt and move with the times.