Meet the rural entrepreneurs starring in BBC2’s Back to the Land with Kate Humble

Kate Humble returns with more feel-good tales of rural entrepreneurs, from caviar connoisseurs to seaweed foragers

(BBC/FC)

Kate Humble returns with more feel-good tales of rural entrepreneurs – from caviar connoisseurs to seaweed foragers – turning their passion projects into viable businesses.

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Here, meet the stars of Back to the Land with Kate Humble, which starts at 7pm on Tuesday 8th May on BBC2.


The alpaca farmer

(Radio Times, Richard Ansett/ FC)
(Radio Times, Richard Ansett)

Name: Emma Collison

Age: 32

On the day Emma Collison and Stuart Billinghurst bought their original 16-strong herd of alpacas seven years ago, they had never so much as seen one in real life. Nor did either of them have any connection with farming, yet since meeting in 2008 it had been in the couple’s minds to buy a farm.

“Alpacas just seemed so interesting,” says Emma, “and when we saw them we loved them so much that we paid the deposit right there.”

Stuart retained his job as a theatre technician at Plymouth University, while Emma took the lead role in running the business. These days Moor View Alpacas, near Liskeard in Cornwall, is established as one of the only farms in the UK that breeds alpacas for meat as well as wool, while in a new venture, Emma accompanies visitors walking alpacas across Bodmin Moor.

Now 50-strong, the herd live healthy lives on their 10-acre site, with fleeces turned into yarn, baby clothes and duvets. Alpacas breed up until the age of six, at which point fleece quality reduces so they are sent to slaughter and sold as meat (“like venison but less gamey”, says Emma). Since 2014 the farm has expanded with Valais Blacknose sheep, the first to be bred in the UK. A single ewe can sell for £3,000, and the alpacas help protect them by instinctively attacking approaching foxes.

“The sheep make the money, but I love the alpacas,” says Emma, who averages 16-hour days during lambing — which includes alpacas, who produce their young (called cria) after an 11-month gestation. “It’s been tough though. Sometimes it’s lonely and isolating, especially when it’s raining. But I love seeing how amazed people are when they touch an alpaca and realise how soft the fleece is; and also that those people can see how well the animals have lived.”


The cheese-maker

(Radio Times, Richard Ansett / FC)
(Radio Times, Richard Ansett)

Name: Giel Spierings

Age: 25

At the age of 18, Giel Spierings’ career plans included “mucking around a lot, surfing and kayaking”. That was until he came home from school to find a For Sale sign outside his parents’ 136-acre dairy farm near Looe. Joost and Anne-Marie Spierings had moved to Cornwall from their native Holland in 1998, when poor milk prices forced them out of business. Now history was repeating itself — but then Giel intervened.

“I told Mum and Dad that we should make cheese to profit from the milk that was then creating a loss,” remembers Giel. “No one in the UK was producing Gouda. Most people here had tasted only the factory-made stuff which is rubbery and bland, whereas artisan Gouda is richly flavoursome, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth and moreish. By making Gouda with milk from our pedigree herd of 100 Holstein Friesians, we would have control of the herd’s food, which is a huge factor in the ultimate flavour of the cheese.”

A sceptical bank offered finance only after Giel converted a barn into a cheese-makery. In 2012, 18 months after that initial conversation with his parents, Giel made his first sale at a local Women’s Institute meeting, then the demand began to grow.

“There was an instant deluge of calls from shops and restaurants. I worked from 4.30am to 11pm seven days a week to try to meet demand. Every other day I felt like giving up.”

But he didn’t. In 2017 the Cornish Gouda Company sold 20,000 kilos of cheese. The target this year is 50,000 kilos, and ultimately 100,000, thus using all one million litres of milk his parents’ herd produces. These days he has five employees and as of mid-April his award-winning Gouda is stocked at Fortnum & Mason, suppliers of groceries to the Queen.

“When my parents first came here when I was six, they made their own little batch of Gouda because it reminded them of home. Gouda is definitely still a taste of home to us.

“So I’m very proud the farm was saved. We’re still here, at least. But I can’t stop and think too much about what I’ve achieved or else I’ll fly away with the fairies.”


The brewer with a seasonal twist

(Radio Times, Richard Ansett /FC)
(Radio Times, Richard Ansett)

Name: Stuart Woodman

Age: 41

Oysters, bog myrtle, primroses, birch sap… Each of these has been used by Stuart Woodman to flavour his unique beers. He is the only brewer using foraged, seasonal ingredients in every beer. No two batches are the same as the ingredients go out of season or come back the following year with a slightly different taste.

“I remember foraging in the New Forest as a child with my grandfather, finding chestnuts in winter and mushrooms in autumn,” says Stuart. But after a decade working in publishing, it was only when he moved to Cornwall in 2008 to study art that foraging became such a focus that he began running foraging workshops.

“Around then I was tinkering with home brewing. I began experimenting with wild yeasts, and I knew there was more to beer than your standard four per cent best bitter. Any beer contains barley, water, hops and yeast, but by 2012 every beer I brewed also had a foraged ingredient. I liked working out what ingredient would suit which beer — an oyster stout, or a blackberry IPA. It takes time for flavours to marry to the optimum point.”

He rented a unit north of Falmouth, enabling his output to multiply from the 25 litres typical of a home brew batch to the 200 litres he now produces weekly and sells in bottles and casks locally and at beer festivals around the country.

“As a forager you pick the four Fs — flowers, fruit, foliage and fungi. There is no legal quota system, so in theory I could strip somewhere bare. But I never gather more than a third of what’s available. Councils do more damage by strimming than I do. I’ve built relationships with landowners so that I can forage on their land with permission.”

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He is especially proud of one beer in particular. “Queenie was named after a Cornish variety of apple. It’s 8.1 per cent, so quite strong, and its a Weizenbock beer so it’s dark, rich, and slightly sweet. But my favourite? That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child.”


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