Column: Down on the Farm with The Gog’s Charles Bradford
In his first column for Velvet, The Gog’s Charles Bradford reflects on his family’s 100 years at Heath Farm - and looks forward to a year of fine food
How things have changed at Heath Farm - a place that you will probably know as The Gog - over the last 100 years. I often wonder what Great Grandad would make of the hustle and bustle of the farm shop even on these cold, short days of winter!
Shortly after moving here, Fred would have found the farm to be a much quieter place, particularly in the heavy winter snowfalls of 1919-20. Despite the road outside the farm being a main connection between Cambridge and Colchester, a good covering of snow on the ‘moderate’ incline would have rendered it almost impassable for some of the winter, his focus being on keeping his family warm, the animals sheltered and fed, with the occasionally request for assistance from drivers abandoning their cars or lorries.
The challenges faced on the farm these days are worlds apart. As for many, the beginning of a new year is a time when The Gog has a period of reflection on the glorious excesses of Christmas and the heady fun of the previous summer and looks forward to the year ahead.
As I consider and plan for our year and beyond, there are simply so many exciting things happening in the specialist food market, where, as an independent retailer, we can make a genuine difference and aim for ‘best in class’.
Whether you’ve personally started adopting it or not, plant-based (slightly less provocative than ‘vegan’) eating is definitely here to stay, being seemingly vital for the planet and also enabling us humans to achieve a better balance in our diets. We’re developing more products for our successful plant-based range, which has seen a real surge in demand. As an aside, Marcus, my brother, has been teasing us with his development of a ‘vegan sausage roll’; we’re several versions in now, as he strives for the perfect consistency.
There has definitely been a significant swing in consumer habits toward meat over the past 12 months, with customers being much more considered about what they are buying. Quite rightly, people are consuming less meat, but when they do it simply must be better: better provenance, better quality and better tasting. The Gog butchery is busier than ever as a result.
We’ve managed to make some huge reductions in the amount of single-use plastics across the business over the last couple of years, but there’s still many improvements that we can make as a small, independent business.It is both costly and very tricky to find suitable alternatives, but something we must continue to do; it’s hard to imagine the enormity of the task ahead for the large multiple supermarkets, even given their huge resources.
It is still only 15 years since we started this essentially diversification project in an attempt to rejuvenate the struggling farm. We’ve come a long way in many areas, with so much more to learn in others, but I guess that is the charm and rollercoaster ride that is building a family food business on a farm site that is several hundred years old.
As I finish writing, I note that there are still things that haven’t changed: it’s cold, dark and quiet outside on the farm, the fields are dormant waiting for spring, the log fire that Grandad enjoyed in the farmhouse roars behind me, and Jensen, like many previous Heath Farm dogs, is curled up in a prime position for the evening, dreaming of rounding up animals.
The Gog Farm Shop is at Heath Farm, Shelford Bottom, Cambridge CB22 3AD. See thegog.com and follow on social for more.
Read moreFood and Drink
More by this authorVelvet Magazine contributor