Farmer takes the cake
Hereford farmer’s innovative diversification takes the cake—and guards the environment.
Many farmers are looking at ways of diversifying their businesses, with farm shops and B&B perhaps being the most popular. But Ledbury, Herefordshire dairy farmer Jim Hitchon has taken an innovative direction.
His wife Sheila has long had a sideline baking and decorating celebration cakes—especially for weddings.
That business has been growing slowly over the years, mainly from recommendations by friends and happy customers. Now the farm is seriously gearing up to develop this niche business.
Since winning many competitions in her days as a young farmer, Sheila’s talent for ornate icing has grown: ‘It’s like playing the piano, it looks easy but isn’t. Practice and technique are essential.’
This family concern is supported by daughter Sarah, a dab hand at both icing and business administration.
Environment and buildings
A new bakery and icing workshop is being established in an old cider mill with a granary above, next to the farmhouse. ‘The building was ripe for renovation, we’d used it for storage, and it was ideal for our purpose.’
One key element for Sheila was to ensure the buildings are comfortable through all seasons. And it was important to Jim that the conversion fitted in with his family’s view on life: ‘For us environmental considerations and sustainability are very important.
‘We’ve installed very high levels of insulation in the building, but I was keen to avoid using oil or other fossil fuels to heat it.
‘We decided on ground source heating. Not only is it an inexhaustible of heat, but it’s very efficient: every kilowatt of electricity I use to power the pump delivers 4 kilowatts of heat to our underfloor heating. So weíll be largely unaffected by inevitable fuel prices increases.’
No entrenched hassles
The usual way to extract heat from the ground is to dig huge shallow trenches, then bury hundreds of metres of plastic piping known as ‘slinkies’. This was the first possibility that Jim considered, but was not the answer. ‘Despite being surrounded by hundreds of acres of land, it would not have been that easy to use a trenching system: to do this would have meant ripping up a paved courtyard, demolishing and rebuilding an ancient stone wall, cutting across a tarmaced drive, cutting across underground water pipes, drainage, electricity and phone lines, before excavating a huge area of field. Very disruptive.’
The solution was neatly provided by a local company WB+AD Morgan of Presteigne., who drilled an 80 metre borehole and installed a heat pump connected to the underfloor heating pipes. Jim’s choice of installer was strongly influenced by Morgan’s reputation in Herefordshire for constructing water boreholes.
Brian Morgan comments that apart from avoiding installation havoc, a properly installed borehole provides more dependable heat than slinkies, as it will not become heat-exhausted: it is not uncommon to see the ground above a trench system covered with permafrost in springtime.
The Hitchons were delighted with the result: a single six inch borehole was drilled near the building, and pipework linked to a heat pump the size of a boiler within the mill. Outside thereís no evidence of the work done, nothing to see, and the job involved no disruption or disturbance.
Says Jim: ‘Things went very smoothly, and we were very impressed with how professionally the project was handled by Morgans. Iíd strongly recommend that anyone thinking about heating buildings considers ground source heating. Adds Sheila ëI walk in from the cold and everything is wonderfully warm, just the job when Iím in production ó icing a cake with freezing cold hands is not recommended.’
For Sheila’s special occasion cakes see www.special-ice.co.uk.