Using quality rapeseed grown on her family farm in Bedfordshire, UK, Whizz Middleton is a farmer, mother and producer of Mrs Middleton’s cold-pressed rapeseed oil.
I wake up at 6.15am to the sound of little feet hammering down the hall towards our bedroom. Millie, our two-year-old daughter, is up early like us and raring to go.
After a large cup of tea, getting the log burner going and wrapping up warm, we wave my husband off to work and head outside to meet the farm staff, who start at 7.30am. We gather in the mess room next to the workshop to discuss the day ahead. The team consists of me and Millie, my father (the boss), three men who work full time with us, two black labradors and sometimes Brad, the farm cat. The weather forecast, regardless of what time of year it is, is a topic of great discussion as so much of what we do depends on it.
A visit from the farm agronomist confirms that we have plenty of field work to be getting on with. He highlights the priorities with regards to fertiliser applications and discusses the requirements of each individual crop. This will determine the workload coming up as it involves a couple of the men; the driver who applies the fertiliser plus a bowser man, who delivers the fertiliser to the relevant field in a large tank mounted on a trailer.
Next stop is the barn where we store our cold-pressed rapeseed oil. A year ago my sister, Ellie, and I started our own diversification project, called Mrs. Middleton’s Cold-Pressed Rapeseed Oil. The idea came about from our annual farm walks, which are for organised groups such as the Women’s Institute and Rotary, as well as one for the general public. I was surprised by the lack of knowledge of where food comes from, despite great interest by those attending, so we decided to do something about it. I have always wanted to bring my own ideas to the farm business and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Our oil is produced from the highest quality seed that we grow on our family farm in Bedfordshire. It is beautiful; deeply golden in colour, crystal clear and the perfect ingredient in any kitchen with its subtle, nutty flavour and smooth creamy texture. It contains half the saturated fats of olive oil so is a healthy alternative, plus the gentle pressing process results in the oil retaining the naturally occurring omega oils, vitamins and anti-oxidants.
After restacking and organising the boxes of oil and bringing a few bottles in ready for samples to be sent out, I deal with the orders that have come in already this morning. They are all going to a diverse range of customers; a delicatessen, a recently restored local flour mill with its own gift shop, a nursery school and the gorgeous restaurant at Paris House, Woburn. I then make a call to the distribution company who have taken over our deliveries. I began by doing it all myself, drowning in bubble wrap, brown tape and cardboard boxes, but I now can’t keep up with wrapping and posting on my own. The distributors are based 3 miles from the farm, which fits in well with our “local” ethos.
At 11am, we take a quick trip to buy supper from Steve the butcher, who is in Barton-le-Clay, the village bordering the farm, and then it’s back to the office to have a blast of emailing while Millie has her 20-minute nap.
Lunch for Millie and me involves toasted sandwiches on the Aga followed by passion fruit and clementines, then the daily routine of feeding the dogs and cats and topping up the bird feeders on the patio.
After lunch we head out with the dogs for a walk. We take a few photographs of our surroundings for the Mrs. Middleton Twitter and Facebook pages, make sure the crops are in a good state, then go back to the house for a spot of baking. There are always surprise visitors at the farm plus regular meetings and hungry workers, so we have a constant supply of cake in the house.
While Millie is busy with her Duplo & mid-afternoon snack, I make a few more telephone calls and open the post. Grain prices can fluctuate significantly during the day so I keep in touch with the local merchants to see if it's a good day to sell a lorry load or two. I'll also place any orders for items that we need on the farm. Lots of our regular suppliers are local and goods are delivered within 24 hours.
After a long day of helping on the farm, Millie falls asleep at around 7pm, and then I cook supper. Buying locally is important to me so, where possible, my ingredients have come from within a few miles of the farm. I love to use our rapeseed oil in a lot of my dishes. A chunky salad of sweet potato, celery, feta cheese and pumpkin seeds, dressed in lime juice, garlic and rapeseed oil is one of my favourites.
We are now highly reliant on computers on the farm so the evening is when I'll update the cropping software, print out work plans for the following day and input cultivations information from the folders kept in the mess room. The final job is to update the daily farm diary. Entered here is the weather, each person's movements during the day and any other interesting facts or figures. My father and grandfather have done this every single day of their working life and the diaries are fascinating and invaluable ways to look back on what happened.
Balancing motherhood, farming and oilseed rape production can be tricky at times, but it could not be more perfect for our family. We are passionate about what we do and Millie can grow up as I did, on a working farm, in the fresh air and with a healthy obsession with tractors.