From farm to fork, with love
Welcome to the good life. A peaceful, rural smallholding, replete with every shade of green, far from the stresses of city living. The smiles on the faces of those who work the land here speak of a pinch-yourself contentment at the lot they find themselves with, tending Goodery’s market garden on an organic farm in deepest Norfolk.
Jen’s enthusiasm is infectious. She and partner Josh are pioneers, part of a ‘rag tag band of pilgrims’ with a passion for producing food the old-school way and delivering it to the doors of East Anglia’s more enlightened punters – The Harper included. Think organic fruit, veg and salad boxes, eggs, honey, and assorted groceries from small, ethically minded producers.
Goodery cultivates a previously unused corner of Ash Farm, dedicated to small-scale organic farming and certified by the Soil Association. A narrow lane winds through meadows towards the market garden, past a herd of shorthorn cattle. Unaccustomed to passing foot traffic, they momentarily pause their grazing to give you the once-over. Birds sing, leaves rustle in the breeze. It’s a scene of pastoral perfection that belies the graft and perseverance of Jen, Josh and their team, whose mission it is to support a new generation of organic growers committed to healthier farming methods.
In the large greenhouse that sits at the heart of the operation, stacks of squash, gourds and pumpkins are a riot of autumnal colour. Behind them stretch lofty rows of tomato vines, heavy with ripening fruit. Josh gently plucks the ripest – among them heritage, cherry, and weighty beef. It’s like a super-sized version of your grandfather’s greenhouse – that same warm, earthy scent evoking a simpler era less afflicted by unbridled consumption.
Scott Taylor is visiting today. The chef at the helm of The Harper’s kitchen, he’s committed to cultivating close working relationships with the best of Norfolk’s crop of small-scale growers and artisan producers. Simple, seasonal, and local are the watchwords – so local, in fact, that Scott’s team are often producers themselves – think Harper’s own ricotta cheese made from Norfolk ewe’s milk, organic ice cream in summer, and delicious, just-baked breads (beetroot sourdough with a dash of shitake mushroom butter sets the tone on the daily changing table d’hôte menu in Stanley’s).
Fellow market garden pioneer Hannah at Eves Hill Veg Co is also a Harper supplier. An organic veg evangelist, Hannah is committed to, as it were, growing the growers as well as the veg, running the UK’s only paid market garden apprenticeship scheme at her community-run garden in the bucolic Bure Valley (just down the road from Jacobean masterpiece Blickling Hall).
She’s joined in her organic endeavours by Jonny Cubitt, a young, fourth-generation farmer just outside Blakeney, a couple of miles from The Harper. Dedicated to biodiversity, Jonny’s a passionate advocate of growing crops sustainably. Wander the footpaths south of the village and you’ll see pea vines and salad veg growing among the wheatfields (‘intercropping’ is the ecological gold standard, don’t you know?).
Daily deliveries from Goodery, Eves Hill and Jonny’s New Barn Farm are destined for pairing with North Norfolk’s finest seafood, fish and meat, thanks to the toils of trusted partner in brine James Bristow at the Brancaster Seafood Company, and the herdsman of the nearby Holkham Estate (source of The Harper’s superlative venison).
Brancaster, like Blakeney, is quintessential North Norfolk – a swathe of marshes and salty creeks, carpeted with samphire in the summer months – and a sweeping sandy beach beyond. At Holkham, deer roam the grounds of stately Holkham Hall, and cattle graze in the serene meadows that flank Lady Anne’s Drive, the road to Holkham Beach (one of the country’s best). You’ll pass both as you pootle along the coast road, and off it to the sea itself – the provenance of the food on your plate that evening revealed with each unfolding scene.
Later, polishing off the petit fours (homemade, natch) after dinner in Stanley’s, you’ll quite possibly feel you’ve come to know North Norfolk – and the folk behind its fabulous food, rather well. And then, to the bar. Freshly mixed cocktails are always in season.