Almost thirty years ago Lady Carole Bamford set about converting her family’s farms and has since become a truly revolutionary figure in organic living.
In 2002 she opened the first of three Daylesford Organic farmhouses and cafés, selling delicious seasonal food produced on her family’s farm. Lady Bamford also founded Bamford, a label selling exquisite lounge wear made from the finest and purest natural fibres. In between all of this she owns The Wild Rabbit, a quintessential English inn and Château Léoube, a French vineyard.
Full of ideas and admirable ambition, we have hardly seen the last of Lady Bamford. So much for not being a pioneer…
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: Would you consider yourself a pioneer of the organic food movement and what do you think lead to the success of Daylesford?
Lady Carole Bamford: My interest in the organic food movement started over thirty years ago while I was at an agricultural show. I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer. I am certainly passionate about good food and animal welfare, and I shall always be fully committed to the principles of organic farming. The true pioneers are people like Eva Balfour, Patrick Holden, Anita Roddick and Carlo Petrini. Over the last ten years the grocery sector has seen an increased awareness of where and how food is made, coupled with a strong demand for artisan products. I see this everyday in our farmshops, and most noticeably at our annual Summer Festival. We have some excellent teams and are fortunate to be able to grow and make a great deal of produce on our farm, in our bakery, kitchens and creamery.
SM: I read that you came up with the idea of Daylesford after realising that the pesticides many of us used in our gardens could be harmful to your plants and your daughter, but at the time it was a pretty revolutionary idea to start a business surrounding organic farming. What gave you the strength and determination to get past the doubters?
LCB: Practising organic and sustainable principles on the farm was something my husband Anthony and I committed to a long time ago. We believe it is better for us, for the animals and for the soil. Of course there are challenges, but we believe in what we are doing.
SM: What made you want to open a hotel?
LCB: The Wild Rabbit is a pub with a restaurant and twelve rooms, rather than a hotel. Owning it wasn’t something I ever set out to do. A few years ago the owners of The Tollgate Inn, as it was then called, wished to retire and they approached us to see if we would like to buy the business. It was important for me that the pub remained part of the community, and I suppose I was ready for a new challenge.
SM: Is there a similar ethos behind the hotel as Daylesford?
LCB: Yes, very much so. Like at Daylesford, The Wild Rabbit’s menu is seasonal, using organic ingredients wherever possible. A part of our philosophy across the business is to use natural, local and often reclaimed materials in the buildings, however we do try and create something different in each place.
SM: How do you ensure that the food and produce used in the hotel is up to standard?
LCB: I am so fortunate to have a brilliant team at The Wild Rabbit who all share a passion for seasonal and local food. Wherever possible ingredients come from our farm and other local producers. My family enjoys visiting The Wild Rabbit, so naturally this is a great way to keep reviewing the menus and service. We also encourage feedback from customers and friends to help us make improvements.
SM: How much time do you spend at the Wild Rabbit?
LCB: I pop in a few times a week, particularly with family and friends over the weekend. The Bloody Marys are irresistible before Sunday lunch.
SM: What is your favourite dish?
LCB: This is such a hard question to answer as every season brings its own culinary treasures. October means game and venison, and heralds the start of the season of casseroles and other Autumnal delights. On the menu at the moment Adam has created a wonderful dish of cacao-nib-crusted venison with girolles, celeriac and figs. Sheer heaven.
SM: You’ve helped to launch the careers of two of the culinary world’s most famous Toms (Aikens and Kitchin), are you still in touch with them both?
LCB: Absolutely. Both Toms are excellent chefs and I really enjoy their food. They work incredibly hard and are so passionate. It is a joy to follow their careers. I am so proud of how well they are doing.
SM: You’ve previously said in interviews that you don’t see yourself as a businesswoman, yet it seems to me that you’re a very driven woman who likes to take on a lot – what’s next on the horizon for you?
LCB: I do enjoy keeping busy and I gain enormous pleasure immersing myself in all of my companies (The Wild Rabbit, Daylesford, Bamford and Château Léoube). I must admit I thrive on thinking about new ideas. There is always something in my mind – so who knows what could be next.
SM: Where in the world do you think is leading the way with the organic food movement?
LCB: We should be very proud of the UK’s organic food movement led by the Soil Association. I feel the UK is having an impact on other countries’ views of organic farming. I travel quite a bit, and it is encouraging to hear the progress that is being made around the world. My daughter, Alice, runs an organic and biodynamic farm in California, so she keeps me up to speed on the organic movement in the United States. Wherever I am I always enjoy having discussions with farmers, producers and retailers. We share our progress and our frustrations. I am always keen to learn.
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