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25 years of being organic

Can you believe 1998 was 25 years ago? As well as making us feel old, it’s an important year for us as it marks the date that we decided to create Acorn Dairy and be organic!


Our family have actually been farming at Archdeacon Newton, near Darlington, for 95 years, but it wasn’t until 25 years ago that we took the decision to convert Garthorne Farm to Soil Association organic status.


It wasn’t an easy decision and we faced a steep learning curve; at the time, organic farming was still relatively unusual and we were very much stuck in the mindset of using drugs and chemicals to increase production and lower costs.


With the help of others in the organic farming community, we learned that it was all about going back to basics and working with nature, rather than against it. Our farm team adapted quickly.


So, instead of using chemical-based fertilisers, we improve soil fertility naturally by growing deep-rooting legumes (red clover and beans) and recycling our ready supply of farmyard manure as compost.


When it comes to keeping our cows healthy, our ethos is that prevention is better than cure. So, all our animals have plenty of space in their housing during the winter and graze outside naturally for the rest of the year. All calves are raised to stay in our herd or for the local beef market, and every member of the herd enjoys high levels of human care and attention.


However, we can’t deny that farming in this way, at natures pace, is more expensive as a consequence of lower production. It is worth it. We would never want to revert to non organic standards.


To keep costs down for customers, we now sell directly to the end consumer, cutting out the middlemen, and retaining realistic, competitive prices for our organic produce.


The benefits of farming organically are plentiful, but the one we’re most proud of is the impact we’ve had on local wildlife. We operate a 12-mile hedge improvement plan and, following an RSPB survey, we know our farm provides habitat for over 86 species of bird, while sightings of kestrels, skylarks, sparrowhawks, curlews, fieldfares and herons are now common.


In the years since we started our organic journey, we’ve made a number of changes on the farm to cement our commitment to sustainable, environmentally-friendly farming practices.


The farm sources its energy from our own on-site wind turbine, we bottle all milk in our own plant, which reduces unnecessary food miles, and use glass bottles, which cuts 425kg per week of plastic from the local food chain.


All of this hard work has not gone unnoticed and in 2021 we were beyond proud to be awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for sustainable development.


Over the years, we have also won the Compassion in World Farming, Good Dairy Award for Cow and Calf Welfare Award, and have also been named the Soil Association’s Best Organic Dairy in 2012, Food Awards England’s Best Dairy 2018 and Ethical Consumer Magazine’s Best Dairy Milk Brand in 2020.


We’ve also received top marks in the Ethical Consumer dairy buying guide in 2020 and, in 2022, won Best Wholesaler at the Deliciouslyorkshire Taste Awards.


Here’s to the next 25 years!

Caroline Bell

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