If you are visiting Swindon and have a taste for scrumptious organic food, peaceful walks on ancient trails, farm safaris, a forager’s lunch or even a day of pig racing, look no further than Helen Browning’s Organic.
The eponymous Helen Browning OBE is a farmer, campaigner and entrepreneur. The journey that food makes from the farm to the plate has been central to her life and work. It is a journey that starts at Eastbrook Farm and Lower Farm, on the outskirts of Swindon.
Together the farms cover some 1,500 acres, in a long thin strip running from the top of the Marlborough Downs down to the heavy clay land of the Vale of the White Horse. With the ancient trail of the Ridgeway dissecting the farm, and lots of footpaths too, it’s a great place to walk, ride and cycle across wonderful countryside, with heaps of wild flora and fauna, and fabulous livestock to admire too.
Says Helen: “When Dad gave me the opportunity to take over the running of the farm in 1986, I decided to experiment with organic farming, to see if we could grow good quality crops and animals, while making more space for nature too. Alongside the enterprises that were already here, we started to keep both pigs and chickens, to show that it was feasible to give these animals a good life, and make great products from them!”
“There is a huge amount going on here now – a dairy herd, lots of calves and beef cattle, 300 Romney ewes, 200 British Saddleback sows, 400 acres of cereal and pulse crops and a small flock of laying hens. We have also started experimenting with orchard crops, berries and agro-forestry at Lower Farm. So there’s lots of food flowing from the farm, whether our pork products in supermarkets or a much bigger range of yummy things on the menus at our own venues, The Royal Oak country pub, part of the farms in Bishopstone, and Helen Browning’s Chop House in Old Town, Swindon.”
As for activities on Helen’s farms, with so much going on all year round, there is now a dedicated events website – www.eastbrookexperiences.com
Anybody interested in getting hands-on experience of the ‘from plot to plate’ ethos should get along to one of the Foragers’ Lunch events. The mornings begin with a quick overview of what to expect before heading out into the farm and foraging what's in season.
After a few hours, the group heads back to The Royal Oak where the chefs prepare the findings for a glorious forager's lunch! Every season is different on the farm but you can expect to find species such as watercress, hairy bittercress, nettles, wild garlic, crow garlic, hogweed shoots, garlic mustard, dock, dandelion, mint, shoots and leaves.
The regular Farm Safaris by Land Rover are another popular event at the farms. As Helen explains, “We usually visit the pigs first. They set the tone for the place. We’ll show you the ProHides wildlife photo hides, the dairy cows and calves, and any beef or sheep that wander across our path. At the right time of year, the wildflower valley, festooned with orchids and other exotica, is a walk unto itself.”
Other regular events taking place at farms include birdwatching, painting workshops, yoga and photography, classes, vintage car fairs and the annual pig racing day. Peppa Pig is not among the runners and riders this June, but expect some of Helen’s beloved Saddleback sows to be hot-footing around the course. There is even a Bacon and Literary Festival planned for September 2020.
“One of the ways I measure success in the farming business is how many livelihoods it sustains and how much vitality you can create from a place,” says Helen. “For me complexity is what one needs in life. Everything that I do in life is about the farm and the countryside. When I’m outside; when I’m walking the farm – that’s when I feel most like me.”
It sounds like a great life, and luckily for visitors, one that Helen is keen to share.