Winner of our special Best Organic Dairy award
Acorn Dairy of Darlington has won this year’s special ‘Best Organic Dairy’ award. As well as being judged on the blind taste test that is a feature of all the Organic Food Awards, the organic dairy award was also based on extra criteria including farm management, conservation, animal welfare and community involvement.
Acorn Dairy has been family-run at Archdeacon Newton since 1928 through four generations, and converted to organic in 1998. Now run by brother and sister team Caroline Bell and Graham Tweddle, Acorn’s extremely high standards of animal welfare practices were highlighted by the judges for particular praise. Central to this is a high level of time spent with their animals, ensuring any problems can be caught and treated early. "We see the benefits of organic dairy farming every day," explains Caroline. "We have a relaxed, happy herd grazing pastures grown from healthy soils, surrounded by abundant hedges which support over 70 bird species."
The commitment to biodiversity that Caroline highlights is backed by hard work – working closely with RSPB volunteers, the farm includes a 16 acre reversion meadow, is undertaking ongoing restoration and renewal of hedgerows and has now completed 500 yards of new hedging as well as planting well over 100 new trees.
Its most recent project is the ‘Plant an Acorn’ programme, which encourages customers to sow an acorn and bring the saplings to the farm to be planted. The project has seen 30 new oak trees planted thus far. The farm is also committed to reducing its energy use – the milking parlour is fitted with solar panels and a smart energy system generates hot water for the parlour wash out. And this Autumn will also see Acorn become the first farm to have its own wind turbine, which will supply all of the farm’s energy needs.
In addition to striving for farming excellence through high animal welfare and energy efficiency, providing local food for local people at competitive prices is integral to Acorn’s entire farming philosophy. The farm offers a doorstep milk round, delivering to 4,000 customers, supplies 120 local schools with milk, and it supplies a number of diverse local retail outlets, from farm shops and local box schemes, to local branches of Waitrose and Morrisons.
The farm is also active in its local community, regularly hosting customer days/evenings, as well as open days and school visits, and offering regular promotions to reach new customers. "Sharing the benefits of organic milk with our customers through farm news snippets every week is something we offer along with a great tasting, pure milk," says Caroline. "There is no doubt that organic dairy farming benefits all stakeholders – consumers, wildlife and cows."
Great tasting milk
Underlying the farms efforts to produce local food that is kind to animals, wildlife, the environment and the community is great tasting milk. Acorn received a 'highly commended' prize in the milk and yoghurt category of our awards; it was this success in a blind taste test that meant it was short-listed for the overall 'Best of Dairy' prize.
As Lynda Brown, Food Awards judge and food writer, explains Acorn Farm is an inspiration to both customers and farmers – organic and non-organic alike. "The farm is a gem – the kind of local farming enterprise that makes your heart jump for joy. Its farming practices, its commitment to care for the environment, animal welfare, and and its obvious dedication to its customers is inspirational. Acorn produces high-quality, delicious dairy products at competitive prices, and it is an outstanding example of why family farms are so important."
To find out more about Acorn Dairy, visit www.acorndairy.co.uk. Or watch Acorn's cows jumping for joy as they are turned out of their winter housing for their first taste of Spring grass below.