Inspiring young farmers Tori and Ben Stanley of Park Farm, Melbourne
PUBLISHED: 11:52 06 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:52 06 July 2016
TORI and Ben Stanley are on a 25-year farming mission to produce 'the best beef in the world'.
TORI and Ben Stanley are on a 25-year farming mission to produce ‘the best beef in the world’.
It’s a lofty aim but farming ‘is in the blood’ for Ben and with Derbyshire providing the perfect pasture, their belief in Longhorn cattle and having thought through every minute detail of the production process, it’s not just a pipe dream.
Indeed, at Park Farm, on the Melbourne Hall estate, Tori and Ben have already come a long way despite only taking up the tenancy 14 months ago and having added their one-year-old son Bertie to the family along the way.
They have brought with them a holistic approach to beef production, and Ben isn’t prepared to compromise on quality at any point. That means that every detail is carefully considered, from the feed to ensuring the cattle go in twos or threes to the abattoir to reduce stress.
They aren’t choosing the easiest or the most cost effective path but ‘Tori and Ben’s’ is becoming established as a Derbyshire brand that stands for the finest quality meat. And as they sell direct to their customers through their butcher’s shop at Melbourne Hall Craft Centre, they have direct feedback from the people who are buying and eating their meat.
Ben, 36, and Tori, 32, have signed what is a long lease in farming terms with Melbourne Hall’s Lord and Lady Ralph Kerr. In essence, they are dedicating the best years of their lives to livestock farming, fully understanding that it’s going to take unceasing dedication and commitment to fulfil their ambitions.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way and would love to be in a position to hand over the reins to Bertie at some point, should he also choose the farming life.
Ben certainly understands his place in the world: ‘Farming is about being a custodian of the countryside and the cattle you keep. It’s about passing it down and keeping it going. Being here for 25 years gives us the first chance since we started farming to put down roots and a chance to leave our mark on a place.’
Tori and Ben are young in farming terms – where the average age is now over 60.
‘A lot of people have to wait a long time to take over the reins at a farm,’ says Tori. ‘But your best chance to make a success of it is when you are young. Even then, it’s tough. When you have 150 cattle and 300-odd sheep you can’t just escape for the weekend.’
But she believes that while you are farming you ‘really are living’.
‘It’s dealing with everything,’ she says. ‘Life, death, night, day, the seasons – the weather.
‘Most people wake up in the morning and whether it’s raining or not doesn’t really matter. If it rains for us that can jeopardise the lambs outside, potentially everything.’
Tori didn’t grow up in a farming family but when she met Ben they started the sheep flock together.
‘I realised quickly you have to really love it. It’s tough at times, like lambing season when you are sleep deprived. Animals die, it’s wet and cold. If you don’t have a passion for it you would never find the inner strength to carry on.’
For Ben, it’s always been a way of life.
He says: ‘We aren’t the first Stanleys to farm here on the Melbourne estate. My great grandfather farmed here before the First World War and he was called Herbert and we named our son after him.’
Ben’s parents have a farm just across the county border in Leicestershire. ‘I guess it is in my blood,’ he says. ‘It’s a vocation and I believe producing food is the most important job in the world. We take a huge pride looking people in the eye at a farmers’ market and knowing the quality of what we are selling them. We are producing something so tangible.
‘It’s a real job. I did a couple of years in an office and it nearly drove me mad.’
When Ben and Tori were married in 2010 they wanted a farm of their own. Ben says: ‘From the start we wanted to take the product all the way to the customer which didn’t fit in with what my parents were doing – which is more about pedigree breeding.’
The couple started with 40 acres, grew that to 150 which they still farm at Langley Priory before being offered the opportunity to take over Park Farm – on a rare long-term tenancy.
Tori says: ‘A lot of landowners only give short term leases, meaning farmers can’t invest and have to take what they can because they might be gone in five years. On this farm they could have leased the land and rented the house to a family from London but instead chose to invest in us. We are very lucky.’
Ben says: ‘If there are 50 farms like ours let this year only a couple will be long-term leases. They are one of the oldest families in the county with a great history and they have taken a long-term view.
‘Livestock farming is such a long cycle from conception to the finished product that you need that. Livestock quality is about breeding a herd you can rely on over a number of years. Knowing the traits that are going to be there.’
Tori and Ben show all their Longhorn cattle and Jacob sheep around the county and further afield. Last year they won Breed Champion with both the cattle and the sheep at Derbyshire County Show (26th June this year), Hope Show and Bakewell.
‘It gives you a chance to show how passionate you are about your animals,’ says Ben.
The couple also have their own farming philosophy summed up on their website.
‘Our values are simple: passion, provenance and responsible farming. Our pride and enthusiasm lives through our livestock, producing the best beef and lamb in the world from the best grass-growing country on earth.’
Ben adds: ‘There are excellent principles from organic and conventional farming and we believe in taking a middle route – the best elements of each.
‘We love welcoming people to the farm, showing them around and telling them the story of what we do, how we care for our animals. We want people to understand what we do and buy into our philosophy.’
And after 25 years, when Ben and Tori reflect on their guardianship of this quiet corner of Derbyshire what do they hope their legacy to be?
Ben says: ‘We would love to have been successful enough that Bertie might be in a position (if he wanted it) to negotiate a tenancy and pass it on to him when he’s young enough to do what we have done.
‘I’d also love to have ensured the area is thought of as the best-beef producing place in the world. I actually think as climate change continues there is an increasing opportunity to do that. It is the place most suited to it. I want to grow the Longhorn and Tori and Ben’s as a regional brand.
‘At the moment, it’s about getting on that ladder but ultimately we want to change the whole way people think about their food. If you can value purchasing a new iPhone over what you put in your body, that’s wrong. Food is the most important thing in the world. If we can champion the value of food and make people think again, we will be very proud and happy.
‘Farmers are often seen as moaning but we have an amazing “office” to work in and people are so interested in what you do. As farmers we don’t tell our story well enough. We want to change that.’