Name: Sue Whitehead
Business: Lane Farm
Role: Business partner
“By continuing to buy local, people are creating their own food security – support your local farms and there will always be food on the shelves.”
Lane Farm near Woodbridge in Suffolk produces a range of pork products such as bacon, ham, chorizo and salami from home-reared pigs. A family business, it is run by Ian and Sue Whitehead and their daughter Rebecca.
Ian and Sue bought the farm at auction in 1987 and their journey towards becoming one of the region’s top pork producers was not a simple one. Sue was heavily pregnant when they bought the farm, and gave birth to Rebecca just three days later. They were then victims of the Great Storm of 1987, losing parts of their farm buildings to the high winds. With the help of their neighbour, friends and family, they re-built and were finally on their way to establishing Lane Farm.
Sue remembers, “It really was a rollercoaster ride, being nine months pregnant and then having to contend with the damage from the storm. Ian had to work night shifts on pea-viners to bring in extra money, but we persevered as we knew this was the life and career we wanted.”
Initially, Sue and Ian found their niche by selling specially bred hybrid pigs which sold for a premium price to commercial customers as far afield as Spain and Korea. They then made the decision to begin producing a range of meats and converted an old dairy into what at the time was the smallest EC approved cutting plant in the country. This enabled them to start selling into retailers and in 2007 they became suppliers for the East of England Co-op through the Sourced Locally initiative. Their meats were initially sold in just two stores and are now available in 30 stores across the county.
Sue believes the relationship with the Co-op is extremely positive and helps small businesses like theirs in a number of ways. She says, “The impact the Co-op has on local business is really fantastic. Over 200 local producers are growing because of their support and their ethos is completely centred around this commitment to local produce.
“When we won the overall Producer of the Year award it really helped our sales as the recognition this brings speaks for itself. It’s so important that local suppliers receive this support and promotion and I think consumers want this choice. More people want to know where their food comes from, and schemes like the Co-op’s allow this. By continuing to buy local, people are creating their own food security – support your local farms and there will always be food on the shelves.”
Sue began work in the farming industry as a farm secretary, providing mobile administrative support to a number of farms. Her main role in the business now is focused in the office, working on sales and accounts, but she is always willing to fill in for other staff when help is needed around the farm. Sue now works with her daughter who takes an active role in the management of the business, and she speaks proudly of Rebecca’s enthusiasm and drive. “Rebecca really is taking the business forward for us. She is the next generation of Lane Farm and we’re really very proud.
“Even as recently as twenty years ago there were hardly any women running farms, but all roles are so accessible now and we work with a number of local businesswomen who are running successful farms. I would certainly recommend the industry to others – it’s hard work, but to us it’s not a job as we love it so much. The food industry is a good place to be, we will always need to eat – just keep an open mind and prepare to be flexible, but the rewards of seeing people enjoying your produce make it all worthwhile.”
For further information on Lane Farm visit www.lanefarm.co.uk