Farming, education and diversification are close to the heart of the Philpot family in Essex, who have been agile in adapting to the ever-changing demands of land management.
The Philpots started farming in 1937 with 10 acres of arable land on Potton Island, a sparsely populated island off the coast of Essex that is connected to the mainland by a swing bridge.
After three generations of careful planning, land management and business diversification, the family now farms across parts of Essex and Suffolk. They also own the popular Barleylands Craft Village & Farm Park, which attracts thousands of families each year and includes an education and discovery centre, where 20,000 school children visit annually for a unique educational experience.
Like many family farming businesses, the Philpots have encountered changes to farming life. As a result, they have taken up the challenge of diversification while maintaining a strong farming focus. They have continued to expand the farm business via farm and land acquisition, ensuring their farming heritage continues to flourish.
The Essex and Suffolk farms sit on mixed soils that enable a wide variety of crops to be grown, including cereals, oilseed rape, peas, beans, potatoes, onions, borage and sugar beet. The farming operation grows produce for suppliers in the UK and export markets worldwide. Use of the newest and latest farming technology, from planting to harvesting, ensures the cleaning, grading and packing of all produce is of the highest grade and quality.
The business’s extensive farm machinery inventory enables it to offer a partial or complete range of land management and contracting services from sub-soiling to harvesting and from drying to storage.
The family is proud to be the host venue for the annual Essex Young Farmers Show, which has been running for more than 30 years and attracted more than 18,500 visitors in 2023.
Barleylands Director Chris Philpot and his family are passionate about flying the flag for British agriculture and highlighting farming’s important role in society. Last autumn, Barleylands hosted the Channel 5 programme Harvest on the Farm. The show was live for four nights and showed farmers’ important work during harvest, demonstrating how the weather can make the difference between bountiful harvest and complete washout.
The Barleylands Educational & Discovery Centre offers hands-on experiences for children aged two and up, allowing them to learn ‘outside the classroom’ and experience the many facets of everyday farming and rural life, past and present. There are several specifically designed guided and self-guided itineraries, which can be tailored to suit various age groups, and all activities are cross-curricular.
The Discovery Centre allows children to fully interact with exhibits, discovering where their food comes from and how it is grown and harvested. Depending on the itinerary, children can learn how to make and bake pizzas and/or plant seeds, which they can take home. The sessions take place in specifically designed classrooms, which are kitted out with all the necessary kitchen facilities.
Children also have an opportunity to learn about, feed and handle farm animals, observe wildlife, ride the tractor trailer and learn about the importance of health and safety on the farm.
“As an individual, I want to be putting something back into the farming industry,” says Chris.
In this country I think far too many people have become removed from agriculture and don’t understand enough about what goes on
This belief has led Chris and his team at Barleylands to put education at the heart of what they do. “Farming is not in the national curriculum as a topic,” he adds. “So we make sure that we present agriculture and food to children in a way that directly connects them to the subject areas that schools need to cover such as maths, English and science.
“By doing this, teachers can see that we are helping them cover the core syllabus subjects when they visit with their school children.”
Chris says that the children who get the most out of the visits are often those who struggle to engage at school. “The teachers are often amazed how we have managed to capture the enthusiasm for learning with some children,” says Chris. “We’re really proud that we can have that kind of impact.”
One of the family’s first expansions was the manufacture of fish meal and protein concentrates for livestock. This was shortly followed by the development and production of powdered milk in Scotland.
“This generation is extremely thankful to our forefathers who started farming and diversifying in the 1930s and 1940s, during what were very tough times,” says Chris.
“We diversified further in the mid-1970s with a farm shop and pick-your-own business, and our farming museum, which includes a vast collection of my father’s farming implements, opened in 1984.
“As a family, we are very keen to see the business diversify. Along with the farm park and craft village, we have a wide range of other business ventures on land which was previously agricultural fields.
“We have everything from a camping and caravanning site, equestrian centre, foot-golf and mini-golf, sports pitches, industrial use commercial storage, and we have planning permission for a children’s nursery. The spectrum of our diversification is very wide and if someone has an idea, we’re often keen to try it.”