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Producer of the Month: Rona Amiss, Duck and Goose Farmer, Dartmoor

Producer of the Month: Rona Amiss, Duck and Goose Farmer, Dartmoor


Producer of the Month: Rona Amiss, Duck and Goose Farmer, Dartmoor

Award-winning farmer and mother of five, Rona Amiss, vowed in December 2007 to never to keep geese again after intruders took 350 of her Wessex white geese from a barn. They then set it alight - leaving 800 ducks to burn to death. Thankfully, despite this ordeal, Rona and her husband Neville changed their minds. They currently farm award-winning free-range geese as well as other poultry and meat. 

Rona and Neville have been rearing Wessex White geese ever since their bed and breakfast business in Exmoor collapsed during the foot and mouth crisis of 2001. They moved to Higher Fingle, a sixty acre farm in Dartmoor, in 2005. Higher Fingle is geographically higher and drier than their previous residence. The higher elevation has meant that the geese have seemed to grow faster and the Amiss' have found it far easier to keep the feed dry. The five Amiss children - Elsa (12), Alfred (10), Dora (7) and twins Harry and Percy (6) - are all involved in the day-to-day running of the farm. In fact Elsa is in charge of collecting and selling the duck eggs. 

The geese are usually kept out in the fields from 8am to dusk, although they are only allowed outside once they are fully feathered. The goslings are fed on 'chick crumb' and then grower pellets before graduating to grass at ten weeks, finally settling on a wheat-based diet. This regime is what Rona believes is responsible for the adult birds' lovely firm yellow fat. High quality goose fat is one of the great advantages of roasting a goose - nothing makes tastier roast potatoes. Many farmers keep geese indoors for their last month but the Amiss' do not believe in confining them and as a result it is a stress-free waddle to the purpose-built abattoir when the time comes. 

Higher Fingle geese are available for Christmas in four sizes - small, medium, large and extra-large - which can either be collected from the farm or delivered overnight in insulated boxes. For a fabulous alternative to turkey, serve with bacon, sausage meat and chestnuts, alongside the obligatory roast potatoes and brussel sprouts. Any leftovers will make a delicious stew.

  • Why do you do what you do? 
It is not easy to make a start in farming but we have had the opportunity to find a reasonable living and bring our children up in a fantastic, food-based business. We produce free-range ducks, geese, chicken and duck eggs, which we diversified into to replace the income lost from our Bed and Breakfast during the foot and mouth crisis in 2001. 

  • What achievement are you most proud of? 
I am really proud of all the awards we have won for our ducks including the Country Living food champion in 2008 and Taste of the West Gold awards. 

  • What is your most memorable moment? 
Delivering our first Christmas geese in 2001. Receiving our Gold Taste of Britain prize at Highgrove comes a close second.
 
  • If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food? 
I would launch a campaign to encourage people to sit down together with friends and/or family at least once a day to enjoy a meal. Be it at school, or at home. Our family meals, with all seven of us, are the best part of the day. If you are making a meal to sit down to with loved ones, you are far more likely to check the origin of your chicken and ensure it is good British food being served. The process of bringing the meal together and knowing the origins of the ingredients brings a sense of comfort which is so conducive to good conversation and a catch up. 

  • What is your favourite food and why? 
Slow-roasted duck with roast potatoes and green cabbage.

  • What are your predictions for the future of British food? 
I think British food will continue to embrace innovation, especially with artisan production methods. I think local provenance and the celebration of regional specialities will continue to become more important in the future. 

  • If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food? 
The Best is British.

  • Beat the Recession tip? 
In poultry terms, buy a whole bird and use all of it. Roast it or joint it, cook the carcass for stock, use the liver for pâté, keep the fat for roasting and make the remaining giblets and neck into rillettes. 

  • What's on the menu this evening? 
On the menu this evening is slow-cooked duck legs, served with mashed potatoes and peas. Pudding is bramley apple crumble and homemade custard made with our own duck eggs. - How can people get hold of your produce? All our produce can be ordered direct from the farm at higherfingle.co.uk or by phoning 01647 281281