Ice Cream and Solar Panels are the key to success for BFA 2023 Family Farm winners

Back Ice Cream and Solar Panels are the key to success for BFA 2023 Family Farm winners

Succession planning and diversification are at the heart of Bluebell Dairy in Derbyshire. Farmers Guardian journalist, Rachael Brown reports.

The Brown family have been milking their herd of Holstein Friesian cows at Brunswood Farm, Derby, since 1953. But in 2007 they embarked on a new venture, in search of a way to preserve the tenanted farm for future generations, while also ensuring their herd could continue producing its wonderful creamy milk.

The answer was becoming a micro dairy, milking 25 cows to produce artisan ice cream on-site for their customers. Located on the eastern edge of Derby, outside Nottingham, with millions of customers within an hour’s reach of the farm, the business has grown from strength to strength over the last 17 years. The farm has its own ice cream parlour, cafe, and play park, with its latest attraction the ‘Cow Palace’ proving a hit among visitors, with hourly milking demonstrations using a robot.

Owner Rosemary Brown said: “The cows, the ice cream, and the milk from the farm is central to the whole enterprise. We bear that in mind, whatever we are doing." But the motivation behind diversifying has always been family sustainability, with Rosemary’s son and daughter in-law running the business alongside her and her husband Geoff. “When we started Bluebell, our plan was to create a sustainable business, because as a dairy farm on its own it was not going to thrive,” she said.

After 35 years, Rosemary and Geoff have moved out of their farmhouse, enabling their son and his wife to move in. “We are seeing our succession policy happening,” said Rosemary. Rosemary said the decision to diversify from the farm’s traditional dairy roots was initially a ‘really tough one’, but for the family business to move forward and to stay at the farm, it was a change that needed to happen. As a family, they have invested heavily over the years, with one of the biggest costs being infrastructure and putting up new farm buildings. Rosemary said: “The last 12 months have been particularly challenging in terms of costs to the business – utility bills have been huge.”

The family are hopeful that installing solar panels will fuel ‘most of the energy requirement on the farm’, but the process – including planning – has taken ‘over 18 months’. Looking to the future, the Brown family are exploring putting in a ‘larger indoor play facility’, but Rosemary said the main aim was to ‘fully understand their customers again’ in a post-Covid-19 world. She said winning the Family Farming Business of the Year award was something they were ‘really proud of’. “I was sat next to the Farming Minister, and I introduced myself as a farmer, and I said that we are winners of a British Farming Award. It gives you a lot of credibility, and the confidence that what you are doing is right,” said Rosemary