The Toddster and I were recently invited down to the beautiful Mendip Valley in Sommerset to spend the day on one of the Yeo Valley Farm Adventure Tours. We were really excited to be able to go on this tour. Todd used to be a cowman on a farm, many moons ago and he was particularly interested in seeing what changes have come into place through the years. He just loves cows and working with them was always one of his favourite jobs. They are such gentle creatures.
For those of you not familiar with Yeo Valley, they are a family-owned farming and dairy company based in the village of Blagdon, in the Yeo Valley . . . and inCannington, near Bridgewater in Sommerset, England. We were visiting the Dairy operation in Blagdon.
After a very early start (5:50 am train from Chester) we landed at the Yeo Valley Headquarters around 10:00 am. What a fabulous building it is! With seven wonderfully and imaginatively decorated rooms spread over three spaces, providing locally sourced and wherever possible organic food and stunning views over the Mendip Hills and Blagdon Lake, they are able to provide conference spacefor anyone wishing to hold conferences and meetings in a unique and beautiful atmosphere.
As a Beatles fan I was quite fond of this Beatles room, but all of their rooms were fabulous really. We were treated to hot or cold drinks and a homemade treat of baked goodies at a meet and greet before we actually began the tour. They have their own kitchen and on-site chef/bakers and everything was altogether far too delicious! It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn a bit about the background of the Yeo Valley brand and how it began, and to meet the other people who were also on this tour.
Yeo Valley founders, Roger and Mary Mead began making yogurt, using milk from their dairy herd, in 1974, selling them from the gate of their farm and to local shops. The present owner, Tim Mead, took over in 1990 when his father, Roger, died in a farming accident.
Production of organic yogurt was started in 1993, as local farmers who were producing organic milk had difficulty finding a consistent demand for it.Yeo Valley encouraged more local farmers to become organic and form a cooperative, guaranting to buy their produce to cope with growing demand.
Today Yeo Valley Organic is a well-known organic dairy company, with many awards for product quality and innovation, and a Queen's Award for Enterprise presented in 2001 for the revolutionary way it worked with its farming suppliers, encouraging them to turn organic and giving them long-term ‘fair trade’ contracts. The firm won another Queen's Award for Enterprise, for sustainable development, in 2006 for its "Approach to management with continuing support for sustainable UK organic farming thereby minimising environmental impact"
They are also the only organic yogurt producers in this country to offer a completely British product, sourced from only British cows and farms and produced totally in the UK.
From the HQ we were taken by bus over to their Wills Barn where we began a fascinating tour and history of the Mendip Valley Presented to us by their guide, Les Davis MBE. I will tell you more about this barn a bit later.
Les took us on a short walk around the top of the valley, explaining to us as we went, some of the history of this beautiful area and some of the reasons why it is the perfect spot for this type of business and some of the ways in which their way of organic farming looks after this beautiful landscape. He was so charming and gave us a beautiful presentation. We were most impressed . . . and I have to say the views were spectacular.
My photographs cannot possibly do it any fair justice. I said to Todd we were seeing a little bit of heaven on earth.
It was quite simply stunning to say the least. Once we had finished our little jaunt we were treated to a delicious homemade lunch using ingredients sourced from in and around this beautiful valley. There was the tastiest sausage roll that I have ever eaten (no kidding!) along with a broad bean coucous salad and a lovely hunk of cheddar cheese . . . fresh baked bread and butter, beverages and a delicious chutney. It was all wonderful and for dessert we got to choose our favourite Yeo Valley Yogurt. (I chose Lemon Curd!) It was the perfect end to our lunch and to be honest I could almost not eat another bite, but the glutton in me got the best of me and I ate the yogurt anyways and thorougly enjoyed!
This lunch was served in the Wills Barn, overlooking these stunning views. A converted barn, it is a fabulous venue, bright and clean and eco friendly. The toilets are flushed using rain water which is gathered and kept, the electricity comes from solar panels and it is heated using a bio fuel. I found it all quite fascinating.
From there we jumped back on the bus and were taken to the Yoxter Farm to meet some of their prize winning British Friesian cows and learn all about how they practice their dairy farming. Totally organic and that little bit more.
It was clear from the outset that these are so much more than cows to these people. Their cows were clean and friendly and clearly very happy. We got to see what they are fed and learned an awful lot about the "science" of dairy farming today. This was the Toddsters favourite part of the day. He was so impressed about how much more technical it all is today and how very well it was all done. In this large bard is where they rear their calves, up to 400 a year, and we were given the additional treat of actually seeing a calf that had just been born.
It was clean. It didn't smell. These were happy cows and so were the people caring for them, happy people. During the summer months the cows graze on clover-rich grass and the, when the weather gets a bit cooler, they are brought inside where they are kept in a well-ventilated and spacious housing area, with comfy bedding and plenty of organic winter feed, which is called silage. They are also given cereals such as wheat and barley and triticale for a completely balanced diet.
From there we hopped onto the Yeo Valley Bedford Truck which took us across the fields where we learned all about how they choose and grow crops and how they care for the soil by rotating fields and composting.
We met more of their cows and a very happy bull in their natural habitat, and saw an ancient dew pond which was very busy with dragon flies and other water insects . . .
We traversed across a beautiful field filled with pink and red clover and saw lots of wild pheasants being fed in their natural habitat and learned more about their conservation work, such as their drystone walls, hedges and woodland and wildlife habitats, including a beautiful wind break.
We ended up back at the bus for a leisurely drive back to the Yeo Valley HQ where we were treated to some more drinks and heavenly homemade scones and cakes.
I have to say we had a beautiful and informative day, which we both enjoyed very much, and we both came away very impressed with this dairy operation from pasture to pot.
If you are looking for a fun day to spend with the family I could not more highly recommend one of their Farm Discovery Tours. It was just wonderful. We returned home that evening having had a wonderful day together, and would love to go back on some of their other tours. They also do garden and factory tours I believe.
You can find out more about the YeoValley operation on their home page here.
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Many thanks to Gemma at Good Relations and the People at Yeo Valley for showing us a fabulous time!