We can trace the origin of the veg in our boxes, but what about Ten Mile Mile itself? We know about the farmer but what about the founder?! We thought it was about time we reintroduced you to Steve, owner of Ten Mile Menu…..
If this face looks familiar it’s because it wasn’t so very long ago company founder and owner, Steve Sidhu, was doing all the deliveries for Ten Mile Menu himself: ‘In the beginning I was something of a busy fool - collecting produce, driving, doing the admin, running the website……at points doing almost everything in a few hours snatched while the baby slept!!’ With a young family and a very young business, this was a world away from the high-flying London life Steve had left behind a few years earlier: ‘I had moved to London not really knowing what I wanted to do, fell into Recruitment and discovered I was good at it. I was managing teams across 3 UK offices by the time I was 26 and a couple of years later (along with wife Corinna) had founded a successful company. It all sounded so good on paper….but it didn’t feel great.’ Age 31 Steve left the corporate, profit-driven world behind, ditched the commute into the capital and took some long walks in the countryside around their home near Princes Risborough to work out what to do next.
Steve is not a Buckinghamshire (or Oxfordshire!) local. He grew up in rural Lincolnshire surrounded by farms and fields: ‘you couldn’t say farming was in my blood but I found a love for the land through my best friend whose family owned a mixed farm. I spent a lot of time there in my teens and always came back to work there during the holidays. It was a world I felt very happy in and I enjoyed the outside life’. Taking this love of the countryside as his starting point, it was then (during one of these long walks) Steve flipped the corporate world on its head and decided to start a new business with a principle not a spreadsheet: ‘I could see how crucial ‘buying local’ was for so many reasons - for the farmers, for the environment and for the local economy. With that in mind, I decided I wanted to enable producers to reach people in their local area. I had the business experience and I believed in the idea. That was all I needed.’ In the beginning, Ten Mile Menu was a ‘one stop shop’ for anything local from brownies to meat to chutneys and Steve was the ‘one man band’ that made it happen. Then in February 2013, a month after launching, he spoke to George Bennett at Sandy Lane Farm….
‘Veg boxes weren’t central to the original plan but when I got to know George, I realised that we could do something really great with this. We were both at a similar stage in our journeys - George had recently come back to his family farm after a successful career in IT and I’d also just made the big change. We also shared a similar ambition, an open mindedness and a willingness to try something new’. George could see the opportunity for the farm - the veg boxes would be hard work and time consuming but if numbers increased, would offer greater certainty, control and therefore security for the organic growing operation. He and Steve also made a great team: ‘most of all, we trusted each other’.
By 2015 Steve launched a new website and made the business officially veg orientated by offering free delivery with every veg box ordered. He was still doing the driving for the company himself at that stage and although numbers grew, it sometimes felt like slow progress, seeming to take forever to get to 50 boxes a week: ‘Getting from 50 to 100 was a little easier and felt like a real milestone for us. During that period what kept us going was the knowledge that this was the RIGHT thing to do. It wasn’t just about the veg - so many people benefit along the chain when you buy local. Sometimes when things were tricky, you do start to wonder if you’re doing the right thing but ultimately, I always believed in what we were doing. I knew that it was a good business - in so many ways.’
In 2016, Steve swapped the Landrover for a VW Transporter to accommodate more boxes and finally stepped back from delivering in the Summer of 2018. By the Autumn of 2019, with both children at school and nursery, he had time to devote 5 days a week to the business for the first time since its inception. Then 2020 happened and the whole world changed. All our lives have been shaken by the pandemic and irrevocably altered but one of the first impacts felt by the general public was the sudden struggle to access basic supplies. For Ten Mile Menu, this led to a sharp increase in traffic to the website: ‘in the weeks preceding the March 2020 we saw around 500-600 individuals visiting the site. On Sunday 22nd March alone we had 1,200 and another 4,618 over the following week. I had to buy additional bandwidth four times to stop the website crashing and, in the end, had to take the decision to shut the website to new customers, prioritise deliveries for those in vulnerable categories, key workers and existing customers’. While exciting from a business perspective, on a human level these were stressful times for Steve and he found himself making tough decisions on a daily basis in order to reach the largest number of customers possible. He is keen to point out that throughout the crisis he found his customers incredibly understanding and supportive and he is still humbled by the kindness of those long-standing, regular customers whom, he discovered later, had chosen to step aside for those more in need.
The number of deliveries more than doubled for Ten Mile Menu during this period to well over 500 a week (which was what Steve & George agreed on as a sustainable number). What is particularly interesting is that nearly a year on and the numbers haven’t fallen away. There has been a well documented sea-change towards buying local and the tide has most certainly not turned for Ten Mile Menu. With ‘local’ now a by-word for ‘dependable’ it seems that consumers are now sold on the idea of buying from a source that is both traceable and knowable after their tried and trusted supply chains broke down. But it’s not just that - it’s given consumers a nudge to really consider the origin of the food on their plate, from field to fork. As Steve says: ‘I always believed that once enough people realised the benefit of eating seasonally and knowing where our food comes from, then the local revolution would happen. Times have changed and, hopefully, things are only going one way now’. Without a doubt, the pandemic has raised awareness of how our food networks operate and small farms, as well as supporting the local economy, offer that all important transparency: this is our farm, this is our soil, this is in season, this is what’s available to you right now. Honesty and reliability at all times.
As for Steve, if managing a busy business wasn’t enough, he’s decided that this is the year to take his passion for trail running another step further: ‘I was a keen sportsman in my youth but never enjoyed running much. I thought running just meant pounding the pavement and I didn’t know trail running was even a ‘thing’ - now I love it. Running up hills and mountains is such a release - you get to explore some amazing places you would never otherwise have access to.’ Last year, during the August heatwave, Steve completed a 100 mile ultra marathon on the North Down’s Way and this year has no fewer than FOUR 100 mile races planned. You could make an obvious link here about growing a business being an ‘uphill struggle’ and that entrepreneurs require the same levels of self belief and determination as ultra-marathoners. Both would be true but the more appropriate analogy is that Steve’s business, Ten Mile Menu, gives the little guys, the individuals, a real chance - the opportunity for independent, local producers to do what they do best and to run alongside the supermarkets. As Steve said: ‘In a race it’s just down to you, it’s just you versus the landscape. It’s simple and everyone is equal. I love that.’
As told to Emma Treanor, former TV Director and Ten Mile Menu social media manager - regularly found quizzing George about organic growing and taking photos of leeks in the mud. Emma also happens to be Ten Mile Menu Jackson’s better half.