How Hill House Farm in Dorking adapted during lockdown PLUS win one of their hampers
PUBLISHED: 16:08 26 June 2020 | UPDATED: 13:52 30 June 2020
As the coronavirus put an end to a Dorking farm’s wholesale business to hotels, pubs and restaurants they turned to selling direct to the public instead | Words: Duncan Hall - Photos: Courtesy of Hill House Farm
As Ian Jones speaks to Surrey Life he’s putting together his first batch of barbecue boxes. Each feature Hill House Farm’s own pulled pork or Southdown lamb with smoking salts and comprehensive cooking instructions delivered direct to customers’ doors – perfect for a lockdown family meal.
It’s a mark of how fast things have moved in the Dorking farm’s life since pubs, restaurants and hotels were closed in March. Up until then Hill House Farm had supplied those businesses directly as a wholesaler.
“From a business perspective it was a real challenge,” says Ian, who launched the wholesale business in May 2018. “We had about 40 regular wholesale customers taking our pork and lamb.”
On the evening the national closure was announced he had a bit of a meltdown – and he credits his wife Sarah for helping him move forward. “She said to me: ‘Pull yourself together and work out a plan of what you’re going to do’.”
His first move was to contact some of his Surrey Hills neighbours – Chris Robinson from Chalk Hills Bakery and John and Paula Dale from Aldhurst Farm in Dorking – to see if they could combine their bread and milk with Hill House Farm’s pork and bacon in direct customer deliveries. “We put a note on our web page and did a couple of Facebook posts,” says Ian.
“On the Monday we did 40 home deliveries. On the Tuesday we sent out two vans and did 80. By the end of the week we’d done more than 200.”
After 10 weeks the farm was delivering to 600 households, having made about 1,800 individual deliveries. Products now include asparagus from Sondes Place Farm in Dorking, microgreens from an urban farm in Mickleham and even deliveries on behalf of Dorking Brewery.
When one of Hill House Farm’s regular hotels asked for special gift hampers for 30 of their best customers the idea of creating Sunday lunch hampers was born. “We pulled together items from people we worked with to accompany our own pork joint,” says Ian.
“We made some onion gravy, some pork stock, a selection of homegrown English vegetables, and for pudding a Chalk Hills brownie square with extra thick cream from Aldhurst Farm, washed down with Albury’s 2017 Classic Cuvee. We did 30 hampers and got amazing feedback.”
Now customers buying a Sunday lunch hamper can have a choice of pork, beef or lamb, accompanied by Denbies’ Rose Hill.
Hill House Farm has also launched Surrey Hills Sparkling Cream Tea hampers and a Proper Surrey Hills Breakfast box, featuring additional jams and spreads from Newdigate’s Debbie’s Preserves and Ranmore Common-based Chimney Fire Coffee.
The boxes have been sent through couriers DPD to locations as far afield as East Kilmarnock, Chester and Carlisle.
Having revamped the farm’s website to accommodate the new products, Ian is now working with Amazon and Not on the High Street to get the word to even more customers.
He admits that the farm had been looking to expand into direct sales to the public later this year – but hadn’t expected to do it so quickly.
And they have kept to their sustainable ethics, ensuring their boxes contain no plastic which needs to go to landfill, and using compostable sheep’s wool to keep the products fresh.
Their story spread to the Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, Michael More-Molyneux, who paid the farm a visit in May holding a socially distanced afternoon tea with the farmers involved in the new hampers.
Ian would like to encourage his new customers to explore different cuts of meat, having seen his sales of pigs’ cheeks, lamb’s neck fillet and collar bacon shoot up in the past three weeks.
“We are working hard with our customers so it is a whole animal market,” says Ian.
“If we have bits we can’t sell it is a big problem for us. We are listening to what our customers say they want. People are more interested in where their food comes from.”
He is grateful towards his team at the farm who have worked hard to get everything working, in particular his food unit manager Darcy Steels, farm manager Kathryn Newman, and his mum Maureen and sister Anna who supervised the lambing period when the usual veterinary students couldn’t come onto the farm.
“Everyone has really stepped up and adapted,” he says.
“We had 11 people here who lived like hermits – choosing not to go out, sticking to the Government guidelines and working hard at maintaining social distancing.”
Find out more about Hill House Farm by calling 01306 264000; Web: hill-house-farm.com
Win a Hill House Farm hamper
Get a Hill House Farm hamper delivered direct to your door. The winner of this exclusive Surrey Life competition can choose between a Surrey Hills Sparkling Cream Tea Hamper, which currently contains Hill House Farm’s ham and watercress quiche, Cumberland sausage roll and traditional ham, two Chalk Hills Bakery fruit scones, Debbie’s fruit jam, Aldhurst Farm extra thick cream and Albury Classic Cuvee 2017 or a Proper Surrey Hills Breakfast Hamper, which currently includes Hill House Cumberland sausages and collar bacon, Chalk Hills Bakery small sourdough and breakfast pastries, fresh free range eggs, Debbie’s thick cut marmalade and Chimney Fire Ranmore ground coffee.
The hamper, which must be taken up by October 31, 2020, can be delivered anywhere in the mainland UK from Tuesday to Friday. No cash alternatives will be offered.
Answer the question and fill out the form below to win:
More light bites
Enjoy a blind date with independent British food and drink producers through a new food box matching scheme.
FromHereBox.com scheme users pay £20 to be personally matched with independent and family-run food and drink businesses after they answer a series of questions posed by ‘Cilla Blackberry’. The scheme was started by Surrey foodie Thomas Etherington, who wanted to bring together food and drink businesses who were affected by the coronavirus lockdown.
Find out more at FromHereBox.com
An annual Tongham hops blessing ceremony went virtual under the coronavirus lockdown. Rev Claire Holt, of the village’s St Paul’s Church, visited the Hogs Back brewery’s hops garden on Ascension Day, Thursday, May 21, to bless the crop.
Last year the event attracted an estimated 200 people to the brewery. This year’s event was videoed at a safe distance by owner Rupert Thompson and shared with 25,000 social media followers. “Happily, our hops have not gone into lockdown, in fact the recent warm weather
has encouraged healthy growth and we’re hopeful of a bumper harvest in September,” says Rupert.
Anyone in the Surbiton area hoping to start up the barbecue should check out a chef’s new food box scheme.
Boxed Local was launched by chef Richard Hards, who spent 14 years on the London fine-dining scene, working with Gardon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White before going to Soho seafood restaurant Bonnie Gull. The scheme offers a range of boxes filled with barbecue meats or vegetarian options accompanied by deli-style sides. Delivery drops are currently held twice a week in and around Surbiton.