One day at the end of April, in the middle of lockdown, Steve found me in the yard at Sandy Lane Farm. "Do you like meat?" he asked. "I like good meat" was the answer.
It turns out that that was exactly the response he hoped for, and so 'the local meat box' from ten mile menu was born! Although, it turns out, it wasn’t a simple process….
I spent most of my childhood in rural Devon where my family had a smallholding with several acres of lovely pasture land. Every year we had chickens, geese, a couple of pigs and a small herd of sheep that we would rear and then send to the butcher for meat. I knew these animals from beginning to end - I bottle fed the lambs, mucked out the pigs and scratched their backs and was always totally comfortable with the fact that, after their lovely life, they would become the food on our plates. I will admit there was one Gloucester Old Spot (Zoe) who we fell in love with and who lived out her days on a rare breeds farm….but apart from that, we reared the animals for meat.
As I got older, I started to think more about our connection to our food. We are, quite literally, the ‘consumer’ in this process but how much do we really know about where our meat comes from? I spent the last 12 years working as a cameraman on TV dramas and we were lucky enough to be catered for every day. The food was generally very tasty (it had to be to keep a hungry crew happy!) but the chefs were adept at making the cheapest meat taste better than it should. I accepted this was ‘just the way it was’ since productions had a limited budget to work with but it niggled at me and I couldn’t help feeling that we shouldn’t expect meat on the menu if it wasn’t decent.
Back to April this year and I was all up for the meat box idea, how hard could it be? Find some local farmers with free range animals and pop it all in a box. But it wasn’t that easy. First up was learning about meat production and wading through the lingo…..It turns out phrases like: ‘outdoor reared’ means the piglet is born outside and then often spends most of its life stuck in a pen. Free range hens have a much better life than intensively reared birds but standards vary hugely. Even cows are often housed inside for longer periods of the year than I would have hoped. The more I learned, the pickier I became about the meat I wanted us to put in the boxes. There was further motivation at home to get this right as my partner, who has been a vegetarian since childhood, would quiz me over dinner about animal welfare standards…..the pressure was really on.
Then there was supply. There are some fantastic local farmers out there doing an amazing job but their product is often sold before it’s even been born and I quickly realised getting hold of the meat I wanted was not going to be easy. Covid has also heightened the demand for a truly local product (fantastic) but that meant farms often didn’t have enough to sell on (not so good). It was challenging. But I persevered and am absolutely delighted with the farms that we will be working with.
Alongside all of this that there was the packaging to consider. Like the veg boxes, we needed the packaging to be re-useable so that we’re really cutting down on waste but they had to be solid enough to hold a heavy frozen product and keep it cold. And then there was the ice-packs to consider….how to make those as environmentally friendly as possible? The list goes on.
It’s been quite a six months for everyone. But I am incredible proud of what we have managed to achieve in these challenging times. The meat box has been created with care and compassion from start to finish. We have built up relationships with small scale, local farms with high welfare standards who produce a quality product…..and yes, then ‘just put it in a box’! It’s some of the best local meat in our area and you we just won't find that connection to our food on the supermarket shelves.
I hope you enjoy the boxes and would love to hear what you think, you can contact me via Jackson@tenmilemenu.com.