Robert and Heather are fourth generation farmers and you never know, Harry and Jacob, maybe together will become fifth generation farmers. Farming is definitely in their blood as Jacob is currently studying at Askham Bryan College of Agriculture with plans to go to Harper Adams. Only time will tell, but rest assured the Copley family will be there to support them both in whatever avenues they take.
We decided to open a farm shop at Ravensknowle Farm as we were both farm advisors in our previous lives. Robert specialised in the breeding and feeding of cows and livestock with Genus, HST Feeds and Thompsons of York and Heather as an Agronomist (arable and forage crops) with Pearce Seeds, Spunhill Farm Sales and later in a marketing position with C21. In short, we were out on farms every day and struggled to source quality home and locally produced foods. Yes we could buy half a pig, quarter of a cow etc and live off it out of the freezer but in reality we wanted chicken on a Monday night, then maybe pork the following night etc rather than just beef, beef, beef in whichever variation we could come up with for tea. This posed the question – if we, with our contacts to really good farmers on a daily basis, couldn’t satisfy this need, how on earth would the non-farming community? (Remember this was before/at the infancy of farm shops and the local food movement). That’s where it all started.
Heather was by this stage pregnant with Jacob, moving to a new house from Cheshire to Normanton (pronounced Normington! Not Normanton as Heather thought, which caused great amusement to the locals. Don’t worry she gets her own back when people visit Iwerne Minster in Dorset!) just two weeks before he arrived! Ken and Janet came to wallpaper the nursery in about 24 hours flat!
The idea of the farm shop was pitched to Ken and Janet, let’s say Ken was just a tiny bit sceptical, however now you would think it was his idea, especially since he’s been on the BBC. The following few months saw the planning applications, grant applications, council meetings, solicitors, bank managers, business plans, builders, electricians, working with local farmers, fridge and chiller companies, the EHO, H&S – the list goes on and on. What a learning curve! However the farm shop opened on 12 December 2003 as Farmer Copleys.
We opened the doors on a crisp sunny Saturday morning and hoped people would come … a bit like Kevin Costner’s film, Field of Dreams, ‘build it and they will come’. Well yes, they did, and they kept coming, many of the first customers are still with us today and many, we like to think, have become friends. We will never forget the first day we opened, we hadn’t even worked out the pricing of the veg. Luckily friends had come to muck in and thank goodness they did otherwise we might not have been open on day two. The switch payment machine had been installed yet none of us had ever used one. Luckily it wasn’t too difficult. The first switch customer was Mr Tesh. He can now use his card contactless and we all know how the machines work!