THE STORY SO FAR…
1998 – 2003
How it began
The Copley family has been farming for over 140 years, starting with Grandma Rachel in North Featherstone with just one pig and a cow. There is a tale to how the Copleys came to be at Ravensknowle Farm… Grandma Millie (Ken’s Mum), as a child, would come and sit under the tree by the track in the field and recounts how she can remember thinking “one day I am going to live on this farm”. Later she met Earnest Copley, they were married and lived at North Featherstone. In 1967 Earnest bought Ravensknowle Farm and they moved into the Cottage. Ken and Janet (Rob’s Mum and Dad) moved in too and whilst in it renovated the farmhouse (Ken will tell you for hours about the renovations!).
2003 – 2006
Farm Shop Opens
In 2003 Robert and Heather came back to Yorkshire, via Cheshire, from their careers in Dorset to have a family. This was with the intention of bringing their children up on the farm and to avoid the farm been sold, by building the farm shop and diversifying the farm. Jacob and Harry arrived in 2002 and 2005 respectively and the farm business has changed dramatically, now becoming a real part of the Yorkshire Community, it’s maybe even considered one of the smaller jewels in the crown of Yorkshire.
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!
2006 – 2009
The shop expanded in November 2009 again just before Christmas, nothing like a bit of extra stress. But it was fab, again people kept coming and Robert had to give up his job at Thompson’s of York and come to work full time for Heather (only joking!). Harry had arrived and two boys under five and Robert is enough for anybody. Robert came and believe it or not their skill sets complemented each other well, what Robert was good at Heather was rubbish at and vice versa.
By now we had a small team and things were going well, there were a few other farm shops opening and we didn’t want to get left behind. We started looking inside and outside of the industry for inspiration and started to travel mainly the USA where farmer’s markets (their name for farm shops) are far more product specific with lots of theatre and interaction between visitors and farm. This resulted in the opening of Moo Café, it also saw the beginning of a partnership with our friend John Stanley in Australia (from Birmingham originally). This saw the large farm shop building we have today housing all of the farm shop and Moo Café. It also saw us taking the experience out onto the farm with the Corn Maze, the Pumpkin Festival and dipping our toe in the soft fruit PYO farm experience.
2009 – 2016
Suddenly with the addition of Moo Café there was a tremendous buzz in the farm shop, some days to the detriment of those wanting a leisurely shop. We had created a monster and they needed to be separated. This saw the biggest investment, the most stressful experience of our lives, the hardest thing we have ever done but also one of the most rewarding. The most rewarding bit isn’t that it we did it, it’s our team of amazing people that have helped us and made our dreams a reality (and a nightmare at times). Good character-building stuff.
We planned on a £1,050m project, it ended up being £1,250m.
This was the culmination of two years of planning, financial planning, human resource planning, logistics with builders and contractors, lots of design and arty planning (the best bit) but in short we opened on 16 October 2016, two days before our busiest day of the year – Pumpkin Festival Mad Weekend!