Shropshire Star

Lockdown food review: Fordhall Farm integral part of community

Community-owned farm offers a wide range of facilities, and now during the pandemic, takeaway meals, writes Andy Richardson.

fordhall farm, ingredients

The continued success of Fordhall Farm has been one of the most endearing stories of the past 20 years.

The organic farm, near Market Drayton, became England’s first community-owned farm following a high-profile campaign in 2006.

At the time, more than 8,000 people across the world supported siblings Charlotte and Ben Hollins to save their family home.

Now owned by the community and farmed by Ben Hollins, Fordhall is a wonderful example of community spirit and real organic farming. Standards are high, produce is exceptional and the warmth and generosity that people showed has been reciprocated down the years.

fordhall farm

It offers a wide range of facilities, catering to those seeking nutritious food as well as people enjoying a day out.

During the current pandemic, its farm shop has remained open, trading from Tuesday to Saturday between 9.30am and 5pm and on Sundays from 10am to 4pm. All door handles and surfaces are frequently sanitised and social distancing guidelines apply.

The farm shop has also catered to those further afield. It provides a national delivery service and a more localised service for regular customers. People can order online then book a specified time slot for their fresh meat, vegetables, eggs, bread, frozen meals and store cupboard essentials.

There are other reasons to visit. It provides organic milk from a vending machine outside the farm shop, which is filled daily with fresh milk from Taylor’s Organic Dairy in Rowton. The milk is pasteurised, but not homogenised and people can refill for £1.50 a bottle.

Covid-19 has affected many facilities, however, and the following projects and services have been closed until further notice: all volunteer opportunities, Care Farm, family activities, toddler groups, Wild Wellies, adult courses, yurt hire, Straw Lodge hire, external catering, Youth Project and Arthur’s Farm Kitchen.

Innovation has long been high on the agenda at Fordhall Farm, however, and the people who encouraged the community to save them have switched to takeaway meals and Sunday lunches, which can be ordered on 01630 638696.

seasonal soup with soda bread

The rise of at-home dinners has been one of the good news stories of the pandemic.

A small number of restaurants have got their offer right, from pizza bars to high end restaurants and from curry houses to local bistros. That might create the impression that providing an at-home service is simple: it’s not. The Fordhall Farm experience tourist attractions some of the challenges at hand.

So while some elements present brilliant value for money, others are found wanting.

We ought to start with the context. Some restaurants have the luxury of being able to pay attention to detail.

chicken and ham hock terrine with salad

So chefs can take care of the mise en place – the preparation of dishes and ingredients before the beginning of service – then provide home cooks with a list of instructions on how to heat and plate when they get home.

Fordhall doesn’t really have that luxury. The service it provides is a takeaway, by any other name, where people apply a little heat to some dishes and none to others.

Dishes come in one-carton-per-dish and there’s no room for finesse. Sometimes it works and at other times it’s less than the sum of its parts.

So a seasonal soup made for a good place to start. Well-seasoned and full of taste, it was gently warmed in the pan when home – not boiled – and provided a nutritious place to start.

beef brisket roast dinner

A free range chicken and ham hock terrine, in contrast, was less appetising. The terrine was fine but a side salad served beneath it from the unattractive confines of a metal takeaway container was less appealing. It didn’t travel well, we might say.

We’d chosen a Sunday lunch menu and again it was a little bit hit and miss. Beef brisket came in a metal container surrounded by congealed bone broth gravy, which liquified when hot.

The beef was fine, tender and yielding, though it had necessarily been braised by the time it arrived at the table. The gravy, however, was less appealing.

A little bit fatty and lacking depth or real quality, it was but one step up from pub chain food.

The roasted root vegetables were great, the roast potatoes less so, lacking any notion of crispness, while the seasonal greens weren’t great and the Yorkshire puddings were no more than fine.

apricot tart

A Gloucester Old Spot pork shoulder with stuffing and more gravy was similarly mediocre. Elements of the dish passed muster, others were less memorable.

While we’ve viewed restaurants and food purveyors positively during recent months as the eat-at-home options have built, it would be unfair on those that provide a good service not to cast a critical eye on those who might easily improve.

Desserts were pretty decent, if not a little stodgy, with a sweet and indulgent cheesecake providing a highlight.

Good quality meat at modest prices provides customers with a welcome alternative to cooking at home.

However, given that we all have so much time on our hands and people are turning to home cooking, standards really have to be a little higher in order to compete.

fordhall farm

That, however, shouldn’t detract from the brilliant work that Fordhall Farm does.

It’s been creative and industrious in the near-15 years since successfully launching a campaign to stay afloat and it is celebrated deservedly for being the best of Shropshire’s farming scene.

Representing so much of what’s good about the county’s terroir, Fordhall will continue to flourish in the years ahead as it remains an integral part of the community.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that it doesn’t compete with other businesses who specialise in restaurant-standard food.

It has so many other things on its plate that achieving the standards set by others when it comes to cook-at-home food can prove a genuine challenge.

Sample menu

Three courses, £19.50


Seasonal soup with soda bread

Free range chicken and ham hock terrine


Gloucester Old Spot pork shoulder with stuffing, roasted root vegetables and roast potatoes

Fordhall Angus grass-fed brisket with bone broth gravy and roasted root vegetables


Raspberry Bakewell

Chocolate truffle torte

Contact information

Market Drayton


01630 638696

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