Plump Hill Farm – Crofting for the 21st Century.


Meet Debs and Stuart. Together they are realising their personal dream on a small patch of land at Huntley. Endless couples parade in line on seemingly equally endless property shows where the single most common motivation is to move to the county and keep some chickens. Most of these aspirations doubtless fail. But having spent a few short hours with this couple – it’s obvious that this partnership won’t be among the casualties.

Crofting is an old tradition perhaps best associated with the Highland and Islands of Scotland. Essentially a couple or a family work on small parcels of land both to supplement their meagre rations and to produce cash crops for sale in the local area, or at least they did before all the rich landowners and landed gentry threw them off the land to make way for sheep.

Here in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley life must have been fairly similar for some. The echoes of small parcels can still be seen in the way that modest houses in the Forest & Valley sometimes also come with a little bit of ground. So, meet these modern-day crofters. Holding down day jobs and working on the land, their land.

Plump Hill Farm couple Debs and Stuart are though taking crofting to a whole new level. Faced with endless ambition but a limited budget from their day jobs they didn’t buy a farm. They bought farmland. Land going for sale in agricultural lots as an old farm was broken up and its sprawling buildings repurposed for the 21st century. They’ve just bought another parcel adjacent to their existing lot and so its seems that the well-rehearsed business plan is right on track.

We spent a great morning walking the patch with Debs and Richard Kaye head chef at the award winning Kilcot Inn. Richard was Deb and Stuarts first customer and has been with them since. We chatted to Debs while Richard checked out the loins and conformation of the ever-growing young pedigree pure bred Old Spots. Debs had to feed her cade lamb (hand reared after being rejected by mum) which was eagerly awaiting its breakfast. “We’d put a jacket on her because of the cold and she (mum) rejected it”, “always learning – we won’t do that again”. And there is so much to learn. Sensibly, they invested in themselves and bolstered their passion and enthusiasm with some top-quality training at the hands of Tim Stephens the Farm Manager and trainer at Humble by Nature. A real success story for Tim and Humble by Nature as they gave Debs and Stuart the spring board and confidence to pursue their dream.

And Richard is just the kind of customer that Debs and Stuart are looking for. Outlets for their whole animal produce who care as much as they do about the quality of the meat they are producing. Ideally customers who will take straight from the farm together with all the provenance and good animal welfare you can shake a stick at. Word is spreading too. Only that day Debs had to, sadly, decline the M5 services request for supply because they simply couldn’t produce the quantity required. That’s not a missed opportunity though for Debs. She clearly has her focus on growing the business to a sustainable size and then consolidating at that capacity.

Animal welfare comes first here at Plump Hill Farm. Yes, the animals are being bred for food but that is no reason why they shouldn’t have a great life and great care while they are part of the farm.

Richard Kaye shares this ethos for all of his ingredients for his lovely country restaurant. “A great dish starts with great raw materials,” he said. “I’ve spent years sourcing local suppliers who rear animals with excellent animal welfare.  Happy animals taste better. Slaughtered properly and in as a calm way as possible is really important to the final quality and important to me.” “It is also imperative that we support local business – keeping the money in the area can really help the economic situation for everybody.  I have the flexibility to take animals from Debs whenever they are available- and she doesn’t charge me a delivery charge!”

We have exercised the viewpoint that Britain has largely lost the connection with where it’s food comes from numerous times in these pages. Why is it important? If you are a meat eater, it’s just a fact that those animals will have to be slaughtered to meet your demand. If you lose sight of this fact and insulate yourself behind the unsustainable polystyrene punnets and red lighting of the supermarkets, you, yes – you personally contribute to what happens next. If no one cares how our food is reared you, yes you, open the door to poor animal welfare. In the shadows, people will exploit the fact that you don’t care and they will stop caring too – in the pursuit of profit. Pretty soon you’ll be buying two chickens for a fiver without a second thought for how they can be sold so cheaply.

And right there you have the transition on this escape to the country life. This is where half-hearted dreams falter, when the dream turns into the daily reality of hard work, dedication and sometimes disappointments when you bear the immense responsibility of keeping animals. The caravan in the polytunnel tells it all. It became home for a few weeks during lambing. This couple new to farming and always learning were “absolutely worn out” physically and emotionally during the process and to have somewhere to crash on site was a life saver.

The flock of fine woolly Shropshire’s all looked pretty happy and healthy grazing in the early morning Gloucestershire sunshine. And amongst the animals and covered in muck, Debs looked very happy too.


Plump Hill Farm

Kilcot Inn

Humble by Nature

Grzyb is Polish for mushroom!


Poland is 1053 miles from Tibberton with a 17 and a quarter hour journey time plus the time it takes to roll on and roll off a cross channel ferry.  Not that we at WyeDean Deli Confidential have ever driven from Tibberton to Poland or from anywhere else in the UK for that matter. But the mushrooms in your fridge probably have!

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Chestnut mushrooms

Why, because Poland achieved world domination in the supply of mushrooms. They wrested the accolade from Ireland who in turned had deprived the Netherlands of this prestigious first place. And so, you can see that the force of globalisation is strong in the world of wholesale fungus.

But why this cut throat worldwide scramble for a dominating market share in mushrooms? One of the reasons is that mushrooms have for a long time been the crop with the highest margin and return for growers. Added to that, relatively quick growth time to be mature for market for their first crop, they provide a second and often third flush from the same mycelium impregnated compost blocks in which they are grown. And, they can be grown all year around – perfect then in most every respect for big corporations.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Dutch tray method of growing.mushroom growers.

For fungis like us, we recently had the privilege of spending a short time with Dennis Nutting, who together with his son Simon, are the last of Gloucestershire’s mushroom growers. In this industry, which has no middle ground, you operate either a small and niche business or you grow on an industrial scale into multi acre warehouses measured in football pitches. This is an industry for whom the cash driven relentless sector by sector globalisation is poignantly illustrated.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Mushrooms emerge on long trays once the mycelium impregnated blocks have been topped with sterile wet compost.

In the UK there where once 500 growers. There are now not enough to keep a trade association alive and that has folded too. For the UK at least, it’s an industry in decline and we are staring into the abyss of having no UK based mushroom growers at all.

Dennis and Simon’s farm in Tibberton illustrates this well with insulated mushroom tunnels lying empty. The two lifelong farmers are now very much in the niche fungus market for the time being at least. They specialise in Chestnut mushrooms which if left to mature become large open cap Portobellos. All of the mushrooms are grown on long trays at three or four different levels. The mushrooms don’t need light to mature so what lights there are serve only the pickers which again in this case is now just Simon.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Look at that beauty!

But fungi breathe like us, the need oxygen and an atmosphere at specific humidity and temperature levels. So warmed fresh air has to be pumped into the tunnel in winter and sometimes cooled in summer. When it comes to picking for market, mushrooms have, so far, managed to outwit the industrial robots replacing proper jobs across the globe. When you pick them from the substrate you need to do so gently and with a slight twist rather than a pluck. Pickers also have to decide which ones to pick. Size is obvious but if, like Dennis and Simon, you also want to grow Portobellos then thinning out is needed and that takes a cognisant human.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
The intricate pattern of the mushroom gills

In fact, one of the hardest things to source in the mushroom growing business, even for the industrially sized operations, is labour. In a bitter twist of irony, even Polish growers so long the net exporter of labour to the mushroom growing world is struggling and now employs a significant number of Bulgarian and Romanian pickers.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
Dennis Nutting hand picking mushrooms.

This is something Dennis and Simon have struggled with in the past and brings to life those political arguments about how we need immigrant labour for some industries and the impact Brexit may have on us.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
The basal bulb is removed before going to market.

So now knowing that the vast proportion of the mushrooms you buy in the shops and supermarkets come from Poland, spare a thought for Dennis and Simon who grow the most exquisite brown capped Chestnut and Portobello mushrooms anywhere in the world. They do it with love and passion and they do a day or so before market. They are the last bastion of one aspect of local food production in Gloucestershire whilst incidentally saving 1000 food miles per harvest.

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,
These Portobello mushrooms tasted fantastic!

Hook up with Simon himself at the fabulous Stroud Farmers market or buy their produce from the stalls at Gloucester and Bristol Farmer’s Markets. With a typical rash of farming conservatism, their produce doesn’t even carry a brand name. But if someone tells you these Chestnut and Portobello caps are locally grown – you can thank Dennis and Simon!

David Broadbent Photography, copyrighted, mushroom grower, farming, agriculture,

For wholesale enquiries

Wassailing Again

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Pete Symonds as The Butler

Forest of Dean legend Pete Symonds has finally hung up his wassailing top hat and waistcoat and handed the baton to his successor. For many years Pete has performed the role of Butler at wassailing’s all over the Forest of Dean and beyond. From Twelfth Night onwards his “master of ceremonies” confident baritone voice could be heard ringing around the counties orchards and apple barns. Wishing everyone “Wassail!!” and educating as many of us as possible in the process. But all great things change and Pete is moving on. There couldn’t have been a better bookend to our recent Wassailing piece at Apple County Cider’s Monmouthshire orchards.

In the foulest of weathers well and truly off the Beaufort scale, Pete’s bonhomie was sorely needed for the hardy bunch who had braved the winds and the stair-rod rain of storm Imogen. The resultant flooding which had turned the valley road into a lake and the inclined road to Ragmans Lane Farm into a mountain stream that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Iceland! But brave it the bunch did to see Pete on his Butler’s best form for his last ever wassailing.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Ragmans Lane Farm is a 60 acre site around a cluster of farmhouse and outbuildings. It is a beacon of permaculture farming training as well as offering a myriad of complimentary agricultural courses. Matt Dunwell, who has owned and run the farm since 1990 had (in the circumstances) set aside the Mushroom Shed for an indoor ceremony – much to everyone’s relief.  Once inside the Mushroom Shed, all the visitors began to overheat under the many layers they had assumed necessary and quickly started shedding outer layers of fleece and down jackets before hanging them on the rack by the door. From the other side of the room the sweet smell of mulled Ragmans apple juice wafted from stove top pots and there was a jug of Kingstone Black cider on hand to fuel the crowd and prime Ragmans own wassailing bowl. In the centre of the shed was an apple tree in a pot. The very healthy looking sapling was very nicely decorated by Matt’s team, who had also provided straw bale seating around the edge of the room, but it was nevertheless an anti-climax.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,
Ragmans apples

Don’t misunderstand; the crowd were in good spirits. Pete was imparting about 0.01% of his local knowledge to a couple sipping on Kingstone Black transfixed by his enthusiasm and .com-like access to anything anyone ever wanted to know about wassailing, apples, cider, orchards……Really, someone should record Pete Symonds!

The folk music track of The Life of Riley band of Morris and Penny (the latter being, Pete’s accomplished and now blooded successor) set the scene against the chatting crowd, waiting for proceedings to begin. Impatient for action, the kids had already started and were careering around the cider apple tree centrepiece in a dizzying blur. Matt suggested that we all brave the weather for the traditional orchard procession. Cue furtive glances out of the windows and door and he didn’t, let’s say, have the most enthusiastic take up. But with overwhelming enthusiasm, and his offer of wellingtons to anyone without, the crowd had nowhere to go but the orchard.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,

Just what it all needed really. Although now wet and windswept the assembled “good healthers” exhaled their collective sighs relief at being out of the storm and the rest of the ceremony continued in the welcome warm and dry.  Good music, lots of singing, party poppers (to represent the traditional shotgun noise), adorning the tree with toast, all handed out by the wassailing “fair maiden” and the blessing for the health and wealth of the orchard for the coming year and the ceremony was bought to a close so that the Ceilidh could begin.

Bringing the wassailing year to a close, and in a final personal and heartfelt thanks, Matt paid tribute to Pete Symonds’ contribution to the Ragmans harvest and ethos in the many wassails conducted at the farm. There were attempts to get him to commit to one last year, but to me he did not look like he was going to budge on retirement.

And the anti-climactic sapling – well that will takes its place in the orchard planted in Pete’s honour as a thank you.

Pete Symonds, The Butler, David Broadbent Photography, apple, cider, wassail,


wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,


Lots of fun being invited to the very first Apple County Cider wassail ceremony at the cider orchards at Newcastle in Monmouthshire at the weekend. For this inaugural event, there was a modest but very enthusiastic crowd too on a cold, but stunningly beautiful, Monmouthshire day. Just a short walk from the roadside car parking and we were into the orchard proper. Stark and bare at this time of year the orchard was mid-winter prune but the mistletoe was on full power with bright white gelatinous berries glinting in the afternoon sun.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Penny Plowden. The Butler. Wassail with Apple County Cider

Wassailing is a one of those fabulous pagan ceremonies that date back thousands of years. The name Wassail is thought to originate either from the old Norse Scandinavian language “Ves heil” or the old English “Was hal” in either case a hearty toast to good health. Mix in a little bit of medieval German drinking tradition and, well anyway you get the picture…Fabulous English pagan tradition that Christianity (like so many of our other traditional ceremonies) put up with, adopted and adapted.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Dogs can Wassail too.

Wassailing is a ceremony to wake up the trees from their long winter snooze and to give them life and vigour just as spring is about to spring (very early as it happens this year). Actually, the history of it is far more complicated than that it would seem  with any number of geographical variations. Wassail, is more accurately, the name for hot mulled cider drink which accompanies the festivities and Ben & Steph Culpin had a large pot of their cider on the burner with their secret mulling recipe on a gentle simmer. The smell of the mulled cider on the breeze was just fantastic.

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Wassail with Apple County Cider

No pagan tradition seems complete without a tipple or indeed music, singing and generally being pretty hopeful that, you, having a good time and paying respect to nature will pay off with a bumper harvest. You start to see the attraction of paganism….? On accordion the magnificently bearded Morris Wintle played some lovely traditional music and with him (as Life of Riley folk band partner), Penny Plowden, in her own very first act of, master of ceremony of the wassail, led the singing and read the traditional wassail texts. Dressed in her black school teachers gown and blazer with top hat decorated with ribbon and of course, the traditional black face (no-one seems sure why, but probably just a notional “disguise”).

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

And so, what could be nicer than a couple of hours outdoors in a fabulous orchard, drinking mulled cider, respecting tradition and having some exercise with a processional walk around the orchard behind the band. We wished everyone “good health” and drank a tipple to, hopefully, a great harvest and another great year for this young but fast becoming famous Welsh craft cider maker.

 wassail, life of reilly, band, folk, folklore, orchard, apple, cider,
Wassail with Apple County Cider

The band and the crowd moved on to The Bell at Skenfrith where to the musical score provided by the Life of Reilly in Ceilidh music and dancing mode the pagan well-wishers dined on confit belly pork, mash and cider jus or roasted sweet potato, apple, chestnut and blue cheese pie followed by apple crumble or apple tarte tatin.

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Cider maker Ben Culpin. Wassail with Apple County Cider



Well it’s that time of year again and all thoughts are slowly turning toward the festivities (and a much needed break for some). It’s time to plan your parties and your menus and over indulge, just for a while, until you throw yourself headlong into your New Year resolutions for half a day or so. That’s right, let’s face it those few extra pounds from the Christmas feast are never going to go away!

Some of our favourite suppliers have great offers for the holiday period. Particularly at this time of year when we treat ourselves and spoil ourselves a little there’s no better time to BUY LOCAL and BUY QUALITY. Even those of us on a tight budget are thinking of a blow out so why not spend some (or all of that) money locally. It’ll help the local economy, it’ll help our great local producers and most of all the products and service is GREAT.

Let’s start with that great “British” tradition of turkey. There are lots of great alternatives but this is the time of year when we all go mad for the big bird! Home for Christmas is not something that is guaranteed. But when I’m home there is nothing I like more than my own traditional ritual. I’m a sucker for a turkey lunch at Christmas. I love preparing it, cooking it, and eating it….for days. I love the cold cuts for Boxing Day brunch, love the thinly sliced breast meat for turkey sandwiches, love the turkey curry and the finale Christmas lunch soup!!

The prelude is calling in at Taurus Crafts Christmas Market (first two weekends in December) to choose a tree, which always gets me in the mood. Although there is always lots of lovely food and drink to enjoy, it’s normally choosing the tree and the singers Taurus find that really kick-starts those Christmassy feelings.

The actual ritual starts mid-morning on Christmas Eve with a visit to Brian Baker at Close Turf Farm (on the back road from St Briavels to Lydney 01594 530277 to order).  Here I pick up the big bird ready for the following day. Brian raises his turkeys at the farm from hatchlings until they are ready for market and like all of the produce from Close Turf – absolutely top quality.

I love the feeling of pulling into the farmyard and chatting to the whole Baker family who by Christmas Eve have already been working like mad! But they are still cheerful and ready for that one last push. All their birds are plump and have that desperately fresh aroma.  Fresh and complete with their pluck, the big bird comes home to begin preparations.

Turkey chicks on the farm
Turkey chicks on the farm

Nothing fancy on the big day either, just traditionally and liberally covered with butter and good streaky bacon, with two halves of orange and some bay leaves inside and sitting on a bed of stock vegetables. Traditional veg too of course, roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnip and of course the famous Brussel sprout. I love them and cook them the way Yvette Farrell at Harts Barn Cookery School suggests (leave out the lardons if you need to). Then it’s in the oven during Bucks Fizz at the stables Christmas morning get together before home for lunch!!

Our family table is often a mix of poultry lovers, poultry hater’s and vegetarians. Which sounds complicated – but it’s not. All the veg is prepped and cooked to suit everyone (with the exception of 2-way Brussel sprouts) and the main components are cooked individually and to order. Simples!



Ragman’s Lane Market Garden

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer, Danny Fisher


Are you happy in your work? And by that we mean really, really happy? We know four people who are. We met them for the first time on a glorious Forest of Dean day on a small parcel of land rented to them by Matt Dunwell of Ragman’s Farm. These four young entrepreneurs Ben Hanslip, Danny Fisher, Natalie Baker and Jon Goodman have grasped the opportunity to fulfil a shared dream, to grow a delicious and nutritious range of herbs, salads, cut flowers, veggies and fruit. They have grasped the opportunity with all of the vigour that passionate and enthusiastic young people are capable of and they are happy! They are growing produce of the finest quality, in an organic and sustainable way in one of the most beautiful part of the south west – what’s not to like? Together they are called Ragman’s Lane Market Garden.

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,
Ben Hanslip

These young tenant market gardeners share the modest farmhouse on the plot, work (very hard) in the fields, eat from the plot and sell the very best of their produce locally to make a modest living. All still have to take work outside of the market garden at the moment, but they all hope that as sales improve they will be able, finally, to work that little patch of land full-time. It could all be a romantic documentary on a bygone rural idyll, but it’s not – it’s today. And this partnership of four young people with a dream is making it all come true for a new generation. Due in part to soaring land prices the average age of UK farmers is 59. The “Fab Four” are working hard to put a dent in that scary statistic.

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,  Jon Goodman
Jon Goodman

The genesis of all of the tasty green shoots is a great story, of serendipity, recognising opportunities and seeing the possibilities, in its own right. Jon and Ben studied together at SOAS University – The School of African and Oriental Studies Further inspiration came from the four WOOF-ing together (the exchange system for worldwide opportunities on organic farms as well as volunteering on community market gardens).

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,
Fresh picked salad and edible flowers

Jon spent two years as a Soil Association Apprentice and Danny has some previous experience of handling working horses – the prospect of seeing a Suffolk Punch at work in Lydbrook is just a tantalising dream though, unfortunately. Jon met Freya Davies of Ragman’s Farm when he visited their Permaculture Open Day at the well-known and award winning juicing orchard. There he saw (buried in the wild greenery) several poly tunnels in a sea of rampant undergrowth. Freya had mentioned in passing that Ragman’s were on the look-out for any takers to bring the land back into production and here they all are!

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,
How it all began for the “Fab Four”

So, on the thinnest of shoestring budgets, but with the whole hearted support of Matt Dunwell and full use of whatever was already on the land in terms of infrastructure and equipment – they began. The plot comes with the use of a two wheeled tractor to ease the burden which, wouldn’t look out of place in the finca’s of the Spanish countryside, but which is exceptionally efficient for small scale market gardens like these. There is also a very practical and also very beautiful irrigation pond to provide water for the crops and habitat for the wildlife. The resident mallards and geese help to keep the slug population suppressed whilst the cute black and white cat heads up the pest control department.

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,
Gravity pond used for irrigation

The value of this support to a brand new business such as this can’t be underestimated. To have had to invest in that equipment and infrastructure at start-up would have been a death toll to the very germ of the “fab four’s” dream. That support, from an existing successful business, acted as an incubator for the new complimentary adventure and we think is a message lots of local businesses should think a little bit more about.

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,

Spade met ground in February last year with frantic work by all four to turn an overgrown corner of a larger landholding into something where they could start to plant and grow both their crops and their fledgling business. Jon told us, “The ethos is to provide some job security for ourselves; to do work on something that you believe; to be able to feed yourself and do it in a way that’s sustainable, organic and FUN!”

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,

Walking around the market garden is an absolute pleasure. Although, if you ever do see the approach road to the farm, you’ll understand why visitors are dissuaded at the moment! The four tend their “cut and come again” salads to reduce waste and extend the life of the crop without reducing taste. Wild and cut flowers punctuate the market garden with vibrant colours and large Comfrey patches provide the raw material for organic, farm made, plant feeds. Natalie handles the flower department with an eye to supplying florists and designers with wild and cottage garden flowers to add an unusual twist to bouquets. This pollinator’s paradise place is just a-buzz with the sound of insects and birds – It’s how agriculture used to look in that respect.

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,

You can buy Ragman’s Market Garden produce, all picked fresh on the day, via the Dean Forest Food Hub. Popular and informal Walford foodie pub, The Mill Race buys from the fab four and Hayley Coombs of the Mill Race told us “We are committed to using local quality produce and the majority of the ingredients we use come from within 30 miles of the Mill Race.  Ragman’s Lane supply us with amazing vegetables and is less than 3 miles away – you can’t get more local than that!”

Ben Hanslip, Ragman's Lane Market Garden, David Broadbent Photography, copyright, grow, salads, producer,
Cut and come again salads

If you are a local chef who demands freshness and quality produce and you like local suppliers – this one is for you. Why not talk to the “Fab Four” or better still visit. If you do we’d love to cover the story and Ragman’s partnership with you.