Ben is the son of a chef and a farmer - when growing up he spent half his time shearing and the other half sautéing. He has recently set up Harvest Bundle, an online marketplace which allows small independent farmers to sell direct to the public.
Ben, are you still a working farmer, or are you spending all your time on Harvest Bundle now?
I am living back at the farm now having left the world of commodity derivatives and the big smoke. My father is a sheep farmer and I lend a hand when needed, but Harvest Bundle is my main focus.
Your frustration with big retailers is palpable. Give us an example of the way they screw farmers.
Talk to me! I could give an hour-long rant …. but in short, supermarkets are always pushing for lower prices, regularity of supply and uniformity. Farming is hugely variable – weather, pests and the fact that farmers are producing and rearing living things – not robots. Farmers bear the brunt of the price wars too. Supply penalties are severe, with regular floggings handed out to the farmer.
Farming is the biggest job in the world – lenience and support should be a pre-requisite but unfortunately it is not. As a result, we live in a commoditised production system that resembles factories more than farms, and the consequence is that both animal welfare and the environment are neglected.
You say they also screw consumers. In what way?
Do you remember the scandals from a few years ago – Horsegate and Fake Farms… prime examples of disregard and disrespect for the consumer. Do we really want to shop in places with honesty and integrity levels like that?
The race to the price bottom encourages behaviour like this. It must stop.
Why do you think the concept of farm-to-plate is growing so fast?
People don’t live near the farmers anymore, they live in cities, and they rarely meet. Harvest Bundle is re-establishing the link which existed for thousands of years but which has been lost in the last fifty. I genuinely believe this is my calling – to reconnect the farmer with the consumer. In its rawest form, I am selling the farmer first, and when people make the emotional connection with the farmer, their appreciation of the product follows.
I understand the farmers' plight, I can see the issue with the current broken system and I have a vision of how to fix it.
Some of the farms working with Harvest Bundle
Is the taste difference between small-farm-produced and mass-produced food most striking in meat or veg?
The way I see it, there are a few things which affect how we enjoy our food. Firstly, taste. Secondly, the moral conscience of where our food has come from and whether it has had a happy life. Food is so much more delicious when there is no guilt attached.
As far as veg is concerned, anyone who has space to do it should grow their own veg. The taste difference is undeniable and generally home-grown veg will be much higher in nutrients.
Too close to call.
One of your farmers, Richard Vaughan, says Harvest Bundle “is like getting Premier Cru wines at Cru Bourgeois Prices.” Does that mean it’s a great place to buy the highest quality produce, but not the place to do your weekly shop?
That's a fair assessment at this stage – it's true that I am focused on quality and provenance rather than price. Farmers have to get the carcass balance* right, which means getting a decent price for what they sell. Fortunately, there has been a generational move towards eating better quality, more sustainable and more ethical produce, and being willing to pay a bit more for it. Consumers are finding a way.
In my vision, it would be great if we as a nation got back to how we used to buy food and stock up. In time I would love to get much more produce from many more farmers and allow people to do their weekly shop with quality produce. (Another topic for another day – 'the hidden costs of cheap food').
Two of your products are ‘Breast Enhancer’ and ‘Butt Massage’. Has there been a computer mix-up?
I am trying to change the supply chain as we know it and offer something which is different. What I like about that brand is that they do the same. It is complementary.
If Jenks&Co readers want to try Harvest Bundle, what would you recommend they try first?
They should 100% start with one of the meat bundles and fill their freezers!! They are seriously exciting to receive, and great value for money.
What’s the biggest challenge for you in making Harvest Bundle a success?
I am very fortunate to be setting up this business at a time when people are changing their ways – specifically - their shopping habits and attitude towards food. The biggest struggle for me is the one every new business faces – spreading the word and getting people's trust and persuading them to try something new!
How about a 10% discount for anyone keen to take the leap of faith and trust my business….?? Code -JENKS&CO
Who are your heroes?
Well, Frankie Detorri and Jonny Wilkinson are my sporting heroes.
But I would say - Wilfred Emmanuel Jones.
I first heard of him via the podcast Conversations of Inspiration. I found him absolutely fascinating. I have since met him and read his book 'Jeopardy', I hold him in high regard. I guess I feel he made me see the world differently – he talks of being audacious, challenging the convention, trusting your instinct and embracing uncertainty. What you stand for is more important than the product itself. I think that is a good representation of what living is! For me anyway that is, being the mad croc-shoe that I am!
Thank you Ben!
* 'Carcass Balance' refers to the revenue a farmer can get from all cuts of meat and whether it exceeds costs. When all cuts have a ready outlet, this is achievable, but there are times when some cuts don’t sell well (e.g. roasts not selling in summer, steaks and stew not selling well in winter etc.) and that's when caracase balanace can be a problem.