Junior Chef/ Chef de Partie required

January 25, 2011

Chef required for Helen Browning at The Royal Oak; Bishopstone, six miles east of Swindon

This place  is rated highly by The Good Food Guide and the Michelin Guide

Chef wanted, alive, healthy, ambitious and with either a strong experience of cooking good restaurant food or with ambition, passion and ability to learn about it. If you just want a job as a chef in a kitchen, don’t bother applying. But if you want to be part of an exciting and challenging operation which produces great food and gives real training and opportunity, then come and see us. We are looking for someone with at least chef de partie experience or equivalent. You will need to be dedicated, hard-working and open-minded. The Royal Oak is not the place for big egos.

Salary to be discussed but starting at £17,500pa. Would best suit local person. Accomodation available however if needed. For an interview and trial shift, contact Tim Finney on 01793 790460, or email at tim@helenbrowningorganics.co.uk. Our head chef Barny Haughton has a fantastic reputation, and is an excellent teacher with the right people.
We do not discriminate in our employment policies, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, disability or faith. Skills, attitude


poor pigs, poor people

January 19, 2011

An off the cuff and possibly naive rant/blog based on reading today’s Guardian about the mega pig farm being planned for Derbyshire by people who ought to know better…in fact we all ought to know better, but lots of us forget!

Actually, i am sure that good farmers do care about their animals’ welfare; and they do care about their immediate environment. This is more an argument about growth, prices, costs, and people’s jobs and the structure of the the rural environment in the future, if anybody is really bothered about it.

I have asked this question before, and it will be one that i probaly ask until the day i pop off. Why do we do all this stuff in the name of bringing food prices down? I am not advocating food price increase, I just ask that people in a bigger society ask why, and how important in the whole scheme of things, it is imperative to produce bacon or pork chops or sausages for tuppence a pack less than we are currently paying?


Who benefits from this tuppence (or five pence, or whatever)? The pig? No. A life outside would be their choice of existence.The farm staff, who often work in conditions that 95% of people would find intolerable? No. They won’t be getting a pay rise, i can guarantee that. The farmer and his fellow company directors? Probably not–they will sell more pigs, probably, but at a lower price almost certainly (that’s the aim)–so they will work harder, have more financial worries, and end up roughly where they are now. They would argue that to do nothing, to carry on as currently, will take them financially backwards.

So will others in the industry benefit? No. Actually they will be worse off. Big places like the one planned will drive down the competitive costs of producing pigs, and so the smaller farmer will go out of the pig business. He will lose his enterprise and his staff will lose their jobs. Another farm will possibly become empty. This is the rub–the continusing concentration of this industry–any industry–in fewer and fewer hands means fewer viable farms, fewer farm jobs, emptier rural communities, closing schools and losing public transport and other services, because people don’t live there anymore.

This is a considerable price to pay for the ‘benefit’  of possibly cheaper bacon or pork chops–and even that might not materialise because the shareholders in the major retailers who sell the majority of these products might take every opportunity to increase their own margins!

We are talking pennies here, literally. Food is an essential, it is the most important aspect of our daily lives–along with water and air–yet lots of us think nothing from time to time of spending hundreds or thousands on holidays, furniture, cars, or filling up the tank of petrol or diesel twice per week. It always strikes me as bizarre, these priorities, and the lengths we go to, to get food more cheaply.

An update from The Royal Oak

January 13, 2011


Please note that we have a limited menu for much of January as we are refurbishing our kitchen.  Arkells have decided to reward the hard work of staff and customers at The Royal Oak by making a substantial investment in our kitchen facilities!

We are happy as usual to cater for large parties, birthdays, syndicates etc during this period (Jan 10-Jan 26) but we will need to agree in advance a specific menu.  The food will be excellent but simpler and great value for money, using all of Eastbrook’s organic pork, beef and veal to best effect.


Our regular series of events comprises some fixtures for your calander – we always host about 150 classic cars and bikes on Drive it Day, April 17th.  Children and adults love our annual Easter Egg hunt on Easter Sunday, which covers a lot of acres on the farm, plus a tractor and trailer ride.

Bob Bowles plies his blues and rock music here live usually the last Sunday evening of every month, cheap food, free entry from 7.30pm.

Camping with Pigs and Pigstock, living with our pigs in their fields with them, using their arcs and tents is a hoot – to be run during August, dates to be decided.

Use us as a walking base?  We are 4 miles from Shrivenham, half a mile north of the Ridgeway, 6 miles from Swindon, 2 miles from Ashbury and Wanborough.  Park your car at the pub!

For more info please see our pub website: http://www.royaloakbishopstone.co.uk/

Greetings from Eastbrook

December 21, 2010

Many of you have asked how all the animals here are coping in these extraordinary conditions. A lot better than the heroic farm staff that care for them is the short answer! All of the cattle, bar a few hardy young beef, are housed on deep straw inside, but need constant room service from Lesley, James, Teo and Daz who deliver silage, hay, oats and beans, fresh bedding and sometimes water too if the pipes freeze up. And what goes in has to come out, so there is an ongoing rota of manure scraping and mucking out as well. The pigs by contrast are all outside, snuggled up in their arcs with plenty of straw for warmth. They are a bit like us, well, very like us really, and tend to stay indoors  much more than usual, venturing across the frozen ground to feed, drink and pee. They also love to play on the rafts of straw that we build up outside their arcs, which also act as giant door mats to clean their feet before they go inside.

 All of their water pipes have been frozen for weeks now, which means that Chris and his team have to cart water in a bowser to them all twice a day. That’s a huge, cold job on top of an already hectic routine. Every week of the year around 8 sows will give birth, and 8 weeks later those piglets are weaned and go into fresh grass paddocks, which soon get pretty muddy at this time of year. Then there’s the serving of sows to arrange, the selecting of pigs for slaughter, the moving of arcs and fences….

So it’s the staff here that I would like to salute this Christmas. They constantly make every effort to make sure that all our animals have the best life possible, even when they themselves are cold, tired and hungry! It’s an amazing contribution, and if you are at Eastbrook, taking a walk around the farm (you are always welcome), or in the Royal Oak enjoying the roaring fire, do say ‘hi’ to any of them that you meet, and let them know that you know what heroes they are.

Ps You can tell them by their rosy faces.

Pss Happy Christmas 

An update from our pub: The Royal Oak, Bishopstone

November 23, 2010

Earlier suppers!

We are extending our opening hours at The Royal Oak with immediate effect. Supper service will start at 6pm, one hour earlier than before, and there will be our usual changing range of home made children’s food as part of the offer; and selected cheaper food generally until 7pm, Monday to Thursday.

Cheaper beer!

Sunday nights are becoming more interesting. We have a short menu, 6.30-8pm; we have reduced beer prices on Sunday evenings; there is a dart board now being used.

Sausages for sale: our famous speedy sausages, normally in retailers at £2.99, are available from the pub till Dec 3 at £1.50/pack, fresh; and then after that at £1.50 frozen from the farm offices in Cues Lane. We have about 200 spare packs over the next few days. Perfect for children, and adults

Live Music

 Two different events in the next few days—our local faves and aspiring musicians The Cheese House Band are performing in the pub this weekend, Sunday 28th, from 6pm for a couple of hours. Come and support local talent, please. Entry is free.

Bob Bowles comes here on Sunday December 12, from 7.30. This man sits atop the musical gusher that is Swindon! Forget XTC, forget…..he is terrific, bluesy, soulful, earthy, noisy, talented and lots of other words too. We’d travel a long way to watch him. He is free to watch at The Royal Oak.

Gift Vouchers

We always have vouchers behind the bar, or we can create bespoke ones for you. Treat someone you quite like to some great food and drink at this Good Food Guide pub, an effortless present.

 The Royal Oak, Cues Lane, Bishopstone – 01793790481 – royaloak@helenbrowningorganics

Website: http://www.royaloakbishopstone.co.uk/news.phtml

The challenge for organic food producers – A note from Helen:

November 2, 2010

The challenge for organic food producers is to delight their customers, by ensuring that everything we do meets the highest expectations of integrity, and of eating quality. People will buy a product once because it is organic, but if it isn’t great to eat, and doesn’t leave them feeling fabulous, they won’t maintain their enthusiasm….especially when times are tough.
In my new role I aim to help the Soil Association be known more for what we are for, than for what we are against. I would love to see us becoming much more relevant to many more people, including farmers and growers of all persuasions. We have been pioneering and reinventing sane ways of caring for the health of our land, biodiversity, animal welfare, resources like water and soil, and people, for 65 years, and we need to share our insights, experience with a wider community, even if they do not end up being certified organic or eating only organic food. The Soil Associations core principles are so helpful for all those concerned with bringing about a vibrant future for the countryside, its people and the public more widely. So we need to reach out, and also to recognise that we still have more to learn and develop in moving towards the goal of productive, kind and resilient farming systems.

Note:  The Soil Association has appointed Helen Browning as Director – she is likely to take up the post in March 2011: http://www.soilassociation.org/News/NewsItem/tabid/91/smid/463/ArticleID/1248/reftab/57/t/Soil-Association-appoints-Helen-Browning-as-Director-/Default.aspx

Magic wands and herbal remedies…

October 26, 2010

Well, white witch Crissi Cromer  (not really) showed the good burghers of Bishopstone one or two interesting tricks of the herbal (and moonshine) variety on her intimate farm tour on Saturday.  We hadn’t even got out of the pub car park and she was blathering on about the ‘weeds’ in the cracks between the paving stones.  Opposite an Ash tree, she announced these were best for making magic wands.  But you had to wait until the tree let you know which branch to break off before doing so; I could imagine waiting a few years, but then not all of us are good at reading the signs. Are we?

This sounds like a piss take–all I’ve done so far is highlight the lightly flighty and absurd.  The real meat here is the plantain or the yarrow, for example–yarrow staunches blood flow within seconds. Astonishing, truly.  Or you can stuff a piece up your nose, and it will provoke a nose bleed; and then push it up again, and it will stop. Odd behaviour, but extraordinary effect.  There are the glistening red berries (your mother would have told you not to eat them, can’t recall the name) that you just pierce and suck the thick juice from–muscle relaxant, I tried it, it works, dreamily.  There’s the common or garden and often disregarded  hawthorn, and Rosehip: I love this woman’s work and her talks, everything in the Eastbrook bridleway that day took on real value quite apart from its inherent beauty.  People with wounds, old war wounds, found out aeons ago that the sting of a nettle brings relief–the reaction causes blood to flow to the sting, so they used to sting themselves to get the blood moving to various uncomfortable parts of their bodies, and the heat brought relief.  And what was/were the plant/plants for Eczema – more than one, lightly brushed over the skin, and real evidence that it works.  I just can’t remember which one –I’ll have to email her and find out.  If you want to know more, contact us; or find your local medicinal herbalist on Google or somewhere.  There’s a few of them about  and they are not to be disregarded if you’re tired of the same old stuff from your local Primary Care Trust  (with a title like that, who can take them seriously…)

Tim Finney

MD – Eastbrook Farm Organic Meats

Some thoughts on the use of nitrates in processed meats

October 25, 2010

There have been several scare stories – not to demean them – over the years about nitrates/nitrites in processed meats.  The vast majority of nitrates (which convert to nitrites in the body) comes from leafy green veg, but no-one seems to allow for this fact or to investigate what the difference is, for health, between the two different sources.

In our own basic research, we have established simply that nitrates/nitrites are essential for the digestive tract to work proplery, especially in saliva; and also that nitrites are/can be a powerful aphrodisiac!  We also have a gut feel that if people eat what we might call a balanced diet, i.e, not eating processed meats too often, then as ever the body is perfectly able to cope.

In organic, the aim is to keep the nitrates/nitrites to a minimum–and to that end the limits currently allowed in organic processing for bacon are about 20% of that in conventional curing; and obviously the current goal is to get them even lower.  The danger is that the very nature of bacon will change, making it less attractive and less palatable to our customers who do not eat it, or nasty sausages every day anyway. Nitrates/nitrites are not allowed in organic sausage products anyway; and usually appear in only the cheapest nastiest items on the conventional shelf, plus cheap hot dogs (that’s why they are orange!)

Tim Finney

MD –  Eastbrook Farm Organic Meats

Helen Browning comments on ‘Super Dairy’ planned in Lincolnshire

October 11, 2010

Controversy rages over plans for a ‘super dairy’, an 8000 cow enterprise where the cows will be kept inside for 11months of the year. Now, keeping cows inside is not in itself a welfare issue; most of us farmers overwinter our cows indoors, when there is little grass to eat and fields become horribly muddy. And there is no reason why a really good team of people, working in state of the art conditions, should not be able to provide adequate standards of care on a larger scale. What they will not be able to do, however, is relate to the cows in any way except as a number in a computer. The animals become just a unit of production, their manure….a valuable resource for us organic farmers….just a toxic waste product to be disposed of as safely as possible.

An interesting parallel is our growing understanding of our need to spend time in nature. The term ‘Nature deficit disorder’ has been coined to describe the physical and mental ill health that can result from our disconnection from the outdoors. This is in addition to the well acknowledged SAD that affects some people through the winter months, leaving them listless and depressed. It seems that sunlight, green places, fresh air and a connection with the natural world is fundamental for our well being. If this is true for us, is it not also likely to be true for our animals also? Is it not the cow’s right to graze lush pasture and explore a wider horizon? Just as we can feel lethargic and low when we are cooped up inside for days on end, will we now breed generations of permanently SAD cows?

What does Organic Farming mean to us?

September 22, 2010

My friend and foe Jody Scheckter, the 100mph organic racing driver, recently was heard to describe organic food as having a ‘Gucci’ image—I hardly need to explain what he meant. I think he’s right, and it’s unfortunate, because as he then said, organic food should be the default choice for everyone. Without it, and without overall less intensive food production, we’re off to hell in a handcart because we simply cannot go on creating mega dairies, mega cows, mega salmon, hedgeless and lifeless prairies…

To feed the world’s growing population? Humbug and hypocrisy. When was the last time you saw a farmer who was worried about starvation somewhere else? He or she, pressured by the worldwide meg-corporations, sees the only route to farming survival as being bigger, cheaper, blander, harder, and faster. Fuelled by the corporate new toys and technology.

Organic’s got a pretty poor name currently, and it might originally have been a poor choice of descriptive word, but hindsight is marvellous, and easy. But whatever we mean by organic, and overall it means less intensive, more sensitive, less battling, more empathy, warm not cold, gentle not hard, slow not fast, you’ve got to admit it offers more solutions than any other form of food production. You see, it really values everything that goes into it, and everything that might benefit from it. Animals, hedges, beetles, the soil; the farm staff have proper jobs, with variety and initiative; the customer, the consumer, is buying something other than just protein in a packet.

The 2 million shoppers in the UK who put something organic into their mouths each week make up a market that’s about 2 million people bigger than it was 25 years ago. They have chosen to take a route that flies in the face of the route that time normally takes us down. A route that is more expensive (on the surface), a route that requires directions and instructions, a route that takes time, in seeking product out and then preparing it for eating; a route that overall is harder work, at a time when everyone wants to make everything easier!

Why do they do this? Well, I speak as someone who has watched this place, Eastbrook Farm, almost literally blossom over the mere 15 years I have been here. And some things are bigger than they used to be, even though I can be rude about big. Bigger hedges; bigger trees; smaller fields in some places; more—yes more—deer, hares, and, mixed feelings, badgers; birds of prey and their prey, the songbirds. Pigs that seem hardier than ever, touch wood; the nucleus of this pig herd has been here for 20 years, a drop in an aeon, but they and the terroir here have welded themselves together. As Helen the boss says, the vet’s visit is to check happiness levels, not to administer antidepressants.

I love it. I cannot imagine farming or producing food in any other way. I cannot imagine treating livestock in any way other than this, (unless we can continue to improve our methods from the animals’ point of view). I eat the same way (except that Ginster’s pie on the motorway occasionally)….

Tim Finney.