Adam Henson is on his way back from Exeter Market with BBC’s Countryfile team when we speak. He’s been filming a piece about how farmers have been affected by the pandemic.
Which is ironic really given that’s exactly what I want to talk to him about – how his own 4000 acre farm near Stow-On-The-Wold has been getting on, and Cotswold Farm Park which saw 400,000 visitors streaming through its doors last year, only to close in 2020 during its busiest months thanks to Covid.
“Yes it’s been tough,” Adam acknowledges wryly. “The farm is a family business but we are tenant farmers. I think people think that if you’re on TV then you are a millionaire and it won’t affect you, but that’s just not the case.
“I’ll never take anything for granted again”
“Thank God for the furlough scheme that’s all I can say. We had 53 staff furloughed in the end. But we are back open again and Cotswold Farm Park has been really busy so that’s good.”
We are also here to talk about the new state-of-the-art food shopping arcade with provenance Happerley in Banbury which Adam opened last weekend – the first of its kind in the UK, giving power back to the farmers and producers, and the Happerley feast he is hosting tomorrow night.
It boasts a brand new butchers, fishmongers, deli, farm shop, bakery, cheese counter, off license, three take-aways, a restaurant and a large bar, and Adam is keen to promote it as a new way of grocery shopping and eating.
Adam is hosting a provenance feast evening tomorrow night at Primrose Hill Farm with The Kitchen in nearby Farnborough (September 5) with Happerley. Full details here: https://happerley.co.uk/news/join-us-on-4-5-september-in-oxfordshire-first-happerley-tour-dates-released-161
“I’m delighted to be involved,” he says. “It’s a really brilliant operation, so it’s really exciting. People can shop, eat, drink and really make a day of it at the lock or even shop there online, and everything can be traced back to the producers and farmers.
“It means the consumer can buy with confidence thanks to the Happerley stamp of approval, and the quality of the product, or its pricing, isn’t being undermined by cheap imports.”
As for its Banbury location Adam says: “Happerley is part of a £70 million regeneration project there and we hope it will bring people back to Banbury and increase the footfall, but time will tell. And with Mid-Counties Co-Op involved, and Happerley taking the concept into schools, it’s already having a really positive impact.”
That Adam is even finding the time to promote Happerley, when he has so much on his own plate, says a lot about the man himself.
Take Cotswold Farm Park which Adam took over from his father in 1999 and now runs with business partner Duncan. It not only boasts 50 rare breeds, rides, walks, woods, trails and horse riding, but a bustling campsite of pods, glamping tents, lodges and pitches, a shop, a cafe…. the list goes on.
Which is all well and good when thousands of people descend from all over the country to visit everyday, but not when it’s closed for months on end thanks to the pandemic.
Cotswold Farm Park has now reopened and Adam is pleased it’s already so busy thanks to the staycation stance of so many families this summer, but he says being closed during their busiest months – the lambing season – has had its repercussions.
“We still had to look after the animals and the farm, the staff, and keep the premises and the business going in the meantime.
you know you’ve made it when a beer is named after you and Butcombe Brewery has just launched Adam Henson’s Rare Breed Pale Ale
“We didn’t want to make anyone redundant, so we were so relieved about the furlough scheme because it meant saving our staff.
“It’s fine when everything is going well and the farm is a really busy, vibrant place and the business is working successfully. But then there are critical times like this, with Covid, when we lost 40% of our annual revenue in three months.
“I’ll never take anything for granted again,” he said in that implacable, cheery, matter-of-fact manner so beloved by his fans on Countryfile, the BBC flagship programme to which Adam adds a bit of down-to-earth realism, a glimpse of life in the real world, some farming nowse.
“Countryfile gives me a bit of diversity in my life and gets me away from the farm. It’s fascinating seeing other ways of life and how people live it and I’m honoured to be a part of it,” he says when I ask about it.
And did Adam take to life behind the camera like a duck to water? He laughs: “Well it took a bit of getting used to. My father used to do a bit of TV (his dad Joe Henson was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in recognition of his services to conservation), and my grandfather was a well known actor, so I guess it runs in the family, but to start with it was a bit of an alien world to me.”
And the pinnacle of his career? Adam laughs again: “Butcombe Brewery has just launched Adam Henson’s Rare Breed Pale Ale. In a way I’m more excited about that than anything.”
He’s got a point. Having a beer named after you proves you’ve made it. The icing on the cake then for a man who works as hard as he talks.
And as he nears the farm where he lives with his wife and two children, and our time comes to an end, he adds: “Overall I’m very lucky because I’ve met so many fascinating people and really challenged myself.
“Sometimes I think I get by through sheer enthusiasm though,” he grins one last time, and with that he’s gone, back to the farm where he’s most at home.
For more information on Happerley go to https://happerley.co.uk/
For details on Cotswold Farm Park go to: https://cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk
To order Adam Henson’s Rare Breed Pale Ale go to: https://butcombe.com/brewery-shop-products/rare-breed-pale-ale-beer-bottles/
Tickets for the feast are just £25 each and places can be booked online here