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A day in the life of a Kent lavender farmer

PUBLISHED: 16:11 20 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013

A day in the life of a Kent lavender farmer

A day in the life of a Kent lavender farmer

Meet lavender farmer William Alexander of Castle Farm in Shoreham

A day in the life of a Kent lavender farmer


Name: William Alexander.


Job title: Farmer and grower.


Where: Castle Farm, Shoreham, Sevenoaks



What sort of farm is it?


A mixed farm predominately arable, livestock, hops and lavender plus the very popular Hop Shop with its unusual product range and busy mail order business.



Tell us about growing lavender


We introduced lavender because I perceived demand for essential oils would increase. Fortunately this is proving to be correct. We began planting in 1998 and in 2001 we installed a purpose-built commercial steam-oil distillery. We have formed a cooperative with three other Kent-based lavender growers, whose oil is distilled at Castle Farm.



At what age did you start?


I grew up on the farm so it has always been a part of my life. I took over the management in 1976 and Caroline joined the business when we married in 1979.



Who or what inspired you?


I followed in the steps of my grandparents and parents, they were my inspiration.



How long have you farmed?


In a sense, all my life!



What training did you have?


I studied at Wye College, where I obtained a degree in Agricultural Business.



Is lavender an unusual crop to grow?


When we first went into lavender it was a quite an unusual crop in the UK but Kent is now the biggest producing county. At Castle Farm we already have 55 acres of lavender and are currently planting another 25 acres. We grow three varieties Folgate, Maillette and Grosso. The former we use for bunch cutting and drying, the latter two for producing oil.



Describe your working day


Every day starts around 7am with a staff planning meeting. From then onwards each day is different very much depending on the season and the weather. Today, for example, I had a meeting about the installation of some solar panels and we were watering recently planted lavender plants. I regularly walk the farm to check the crops. In harvest I operate the grain store myself and also undertake a lot of the repairs around the farm there is always something that needs attention. We employ five full-time and five part-time staff, some of who work in the Hop Shop, and we also require additional seasonal help. We have provided work experience to several Hadlow College agriculture students and that has proved mutually beneficial.



Tell us about the farm itself


We farm 1,200 acres. We have about 250 head of beef cattle, a mixture of breeds including Limousin, Devon, Aberdeen Angus and Sussex. About 700 acres are devoted to arable crops, including wheat, barley, oil seed rape, herbage seeds and winter beans. Well soon have 80 acres of lavender, making us the biggest lavender producers in the UK. Over 50 acres of the farm is managed primarily for environmental conservation.



How do you market the lavender?


Our grower cooperative supplies oil to the manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, toiletries and perfumes, both here in the UK and abroad. We produce our own range of soaps, hand creams, aromatherapy oils and other speciality lines, such as Sleepy Scent, which we sell in the Hop Shop and by mail order. We have also developed a range of lavender essences for food flavouring. Lavender foods are becoming increasingly popular and we work with a group of artisan producers, based in various parts of Kent, who make a range of chutneys, jellies, spreads, marmalade, shortbreads and other products for us. We have produced a series of innovative recipes which home cooks are increasingly enjoying trying out.



Do you have children following in your footsteps?


Thomas is developing a career as a photographer but he currently works on the farm a couple of days a week. Crispin is in Dublin studying for a PhD and may decide to be involved in the farm in the years ahead. Our daughter lives in Australia but returns home every summer to assist on the farm during our July Lavender Festival, which now attracts thousands of visitors.



Marks out of 10 for job satisfaction?


I dont need to think about the answer to this! It has to be a 10!



GET IN TOUCH


Castle Farm


Redmans Lane, Shoreham, Sevenoaks TN14 7UB


01959 523218


sales@hopshop.co.uk


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