Producer of the Month: Mike Smales, Dairy and Pumpkin Farmer, Salisbury
Baby Bear, Mars, Racer and Sumo are all varieties of pumpkin which Mike Smales grows at his farm in Wiltshire. Many of this year's crop have already been pre-sold for Halloween, though the pumpkin's popularity in the UK as a key autumnal vegetable is ever increasing.
Mike Smales grows over 30 acres of pumpkins and squash alongside various other vegetables, at Lyburn Farm on the edge of the New Forest. Mike and his wife, Judy, also have a 200-strong dairy herd and use its milk to make their award-winning cheeses; Old Smales (also known as Old Winchester), Lyburn Gold, Stoney Cross, Lyburn's Winchester, Lyburn Smoked and Lyburn Garlic and Nettle.
- Why do you do what you do?
My family have been at Lyburn Farm since 1969 and have always run a large herd of cows. The ground has never been suitable for arable farming, but there is land with perfect soil for vegetables, upon which we have grown pumpkin and squash for the past thirty years.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
With the slow demise of the milk industry, we chose to start making cheese ten years ago. We had no idea what a huge success Old Winchester and Stoney Cross would become.
- What is your most memorable moment?
Probably Old Winchester winning the Reserve Championship at the Royal Bath and West Show three years ago.
- If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food?
I would introduce far stricter legislation on food labelling. This is an issue that really needs to be properly sorted out. The corporate food sector has for some years misled the consumer. Consumers are still being led to believe that a product is made or produced in the UK when it has not been. We need more clarity. Big supermarkets are a threat to British food as their agenda is all about share price and the cheapest produce they can source.
- What is your favourite food and why?
British beef. Ideally, a medium rare rib eye steak, with a little bit of fat to it.
- What are your predictions for the future of British food?
It does seem as though the production of UK food is increasingly becoming controlled by the four largest supermarkets. However, if the artisan food market can continue to produce British food with character, flavour and points of difference, hopefully consumers will turn to these products for superior quality. This food is more expensive, but then perhaps the cost can be met by everyone eating a little less.
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food?
Be British. Eat British.
- Beat the Recession tip?
Shop at Hampshire Farmers' Market. Order a vegetable box from Riverford or Able and Cole, you might be surprised at what good value you get.
- What's on the menu this evening?
Pork steak, from the local butcher with runner beans, dwarf beans, and sweetcorn from our own fields. For pudding, blackberry and apple crumble, using fruit from the garden. For me, there has to be more blackberry and apple than crumble. At some point this week I will have a thick pumpkin soup for supper.
- How can people get hold of your produce?
By coming to the farm and buying directly from us. Alternatively our vegetables, including the pumpkins and squash, can be found in Riverford and Able and Cole vegetable boxes or on Waitrose shelves. We also sell at Hampshire Famers' Markets and our produce is available in many farm shops in Hampshire. Our cheese is also available from Fortnum and Masons, Mortimer Bennet, Hamish Johnson, Leaden Hall, and John Lewis Oxford St. If in doubt telephone 01794 390451 or visit our website www.lyburnfarm.co.uk