If you’ve not popped over to Lower Wilbury Farm, you’ve definitely been missing one of the loveliest features of living in this beautiful area. I recently sat down for a chat with farmers Dean and Katie Whybrow, both of whom were so warm and welcoming, I felt like I’d known them for years! Here’s what I learned about farming…
AF: Shall we start with you introducing yourself please?
KW: So I’m Katie Whybrow and this is my husband, Dean. We live at Lower Wilbury Farm. We’ve got two children. William is ten – he’s at Pix Brook. And Charlie is eight and he’s at St Mary’s in Stotfold. This is a Central Bedfordshire Council farm; we took on the tenancy six years ago. It’s hard to get a farm – before we came here we were managing a big estate in Bedford, but we wanted something that was our own. So when this one came up it was perfect.
AF: How did you get into farming in the first place?
KW: My parents have got a large arable farm in Huntingdon and…
AF: I’m so sorry but I’d like to stop you there and ask: what does arable mean? That’s probably a silly question but I know nothing about farming!
KW: Haha No problem! Arable is crops: wheat, barley, beans, peas, rice, everything like that, they don’t have any animals. Dean’s granddads have always been on farms and his mum and dad have got a smallholding, so a little farm: a few cows, a few sheep. They’ve still got other jobs but they do their little farm in the evening. We both went to agricultural college at Shuttleworth.
AF: Ah, so you two met when you were both studying?
KW: Yeah. Then Dean got a job as a stockman, and progressed to be farm manager, and then I was working there with him. It’s always felt like a calling for us. I worked in an office for a few years, eight to five, and it was horrible!
AF: And obviously this is not an arable farm…
KW: Right, so we’ve got livestock and it’s all grass. We have 160 acres here now. When we first moved in it was all arable – it was all just cut for straw. There were no fences, so we had to put everything down to grass and we had to fence the whole farm. Between the pair of us and the children, we did it all. To save money, we didn’t get any outside help – it was just us and some friends.
AF: Oh my gosh, it sounds like a lot of work!
KW: Yeah, we don’t really ever stop! So we started off the first year with the shop, it was so small then! We did Christmas turkeys – 50 of them – and sold them all. And then every couple of months we’d have a pig or a lamb so we’d open the shop. And then we went monthly with one pig and one lamb and a bit of beef. Eventually, we went every two weeks in January 2020, just before coronavirus properly hit, and we extended the shop a bit more, but during the worst of the pandemic, we had queues up to an hour to get in! We were going through more stuff than we’d ever got through – it felt like everyone found us – all the people that had been shopping at Tesco or wherever couldn’t get their meat there anymore, so they started coming to us. So we went weekly in March 2020, three days a week on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
AF: Wow! That’s a huge amount of growth for your shop sales! That sounds full on!
KW: Yeah, and at first it was just us – on the farm as well as the shop. We’d work the shop, go and do the farm, we were supposed to do homeschooling but that just didn’t get done. Luckily, we had quite understanding teachers!
AF: You must have been exhausted! You do have help now though…
KW: Yes, we took on Amy in June/July time of 2020, so she’s been with us for more than a year now and helps us in the shop. Plus we took on a butcher – part time at first when we were fortnightly – and once we moved weekly and opened the shop on Thursday through Sunday, we took on a full time butcher, Andy.
AF: It feels really lovely to live in a community that produces such high quality meat right on our doorstep.
DW: Absolutely. We had a stall at Fairfield’s Apple Day, and afterwards we took all the leftover apple pulp to feed our pigs, so nothing was wasted. And we’ve started selling veg in our shop as well, and most of that’s also local.
AF: It’s clear that you both truly love being farmers…
DW: We do love it – being outside, enjoying time with the animals – breeding to improve the animals – conservation grazing, native grazing. Our pedigree Hereford cattle are on one of the Woodland Trust sites, so we get cheap grazing but the cattle serve a purpose by managing the woodlands – there are no chemicals or fertilisers, it’s all wild flowers they’re grazing.
AF: Sounds so beautiful! Please remind me when your shop is open? You’ll have turkeys for Christmas again, right?
KW: Yes, all free range turkeys that we rear here! We’re open Thursday to Saturday, 9am–4.30pm, and Sunday 10am–1pm. People can pick up a pre-order form from the shop for Christmas.
AF: Thank you so much for letting me chat with you today! Your farm is amazing – I hope everyone in Fairfield comes to visit!
DW: Thank you! Nice to speak to you!
Amber Fortier moved to Fairfield Park in 2017 with her husband and three young children. She is originally from New York