Kenyon Hall Farm, Croft - the farm run by a local family for 500 years
PUBLISHED: 15:27 09 June 2014
Kenyon Hall Farm at Croft, near Warrington, has been worked by the same family for over 500 years. Tod and Barbara Bulmer are still sowing the seeds of success
Farming presents many challenges. Rising costs, competition from big business and climate change have all meant the agricultural industry has had to take a hard look at its future. Diversification has helped buoy the fortunes – and bank balances – of some. But many could take inspiration from couple Tod and Barbara Bulmer.
The husband and wife team have been running Kenyon Hall Farm in Croft, near Warrington, since 1978. The farm has been in Tod’s family since before 1500. They were first tenant farmers and then owners when Tod’s grandfather, Walter Boardman, bought the land in 1919.
Back then the 166 acre farm was producing wheat, barley, grass and potatoes as well as keeping milking cows, beef cattle, pigs and hens. Milk was taken in a horse and trap to the station at Newton-le-Willows then on to Manchester and during the winter one lucky worker had the privilege or walking a load of hay to a brewery in Bolton before collecting farmyard manure from an abattoir in Leigh on the return journey.
Tod, 62, said: ‘My grandfather was brave to buy the land. But it’s not very often the opportunity to buy back from an estate comes along. As it turned out it wasn’t a great time to buy. Land prices were high because farming had been profitable. Then the Great Depression hit.
‘They went through 15 pretty tough years. They got through it by tightening their belts. And they did it. My grandfather was dedicated. He always said he would die with his boots on.’
Tod’s mother, Nelsom Bulmer, officially took over Kenyon Hall in 1965 but had been doing the books for many years before that. She took the reigns with the help of dedicated worker Stanley Monaghan, who was awarded a British Empire Medal services to British agriculture for his more than 60 years work at the Croft farm. In 1978 Tod and Barbara, fresh from travelling the world, decided to return to the family business.
Tod said: ‘I had always wanted to be in the family business. I had qualified from agricultural college and spent many years floating around, travelling. Although you never lose that urge to see the world, we knew what we wanted to do.
‘I have a lot of happy memories from spending time on the farm when I was a young boy. I remember my grandfather squirting me in the eye with milk because I was getting too close to the cows. It means a lot to me and I wanted to be involved. They farm was a sleepy 166 acres back then. It was successful but it needed waking up.’
Tod and Barbara have done just that. Like the generations before them, they have helped to sustain and grow the family business. They planted two acres of strawberries in their first year to start a Pick Your Own scheme. Now, they grow 1,000 tonnes of potatoes, 1,000 tonnes of grain goes through the combine harvester and they produce 100 tonnes of strawberries. They grow every soft fruit you can think of as well as many varieties of plants, flowers and herbs. They now farm around 500 acres of their own land or other parts rented from friends and neighbours.
And their successes keep on coming. Three years ago this month, they opened a farm shop and café selling the produce they grow as well as jams, marmalades and other delicious offerings created by former Home Economics teacher Barbara, 63. This includes their raspberry and tayberry jam which received accolades from the Great Taste Awards and a three fruit marmalade which won a top prize at the World’s Original Marmalade Awards held in the Lake District. They also run an award-winning vegetable delivery service, Northern Harvest, and for more than 30 years they have grown oats that are supplied to Crewe cereal company, Mornflake.
The couple are now keen to build on the success of the café and farm shop. Much like his grandfather, Tod is showing no signs of losing his passion for Kenyon Hall.
He said: ‘I want to die with my boots on. Without this place I would go stir crazy. I’m so used to having such a lot of space and enjoyment from being on the farm.
‘Now we just want to concentrate on really getting the farm shop and café well and truly established and ensuring the future of the farm.’