Carol Emmas goes down on the farm with Andrew Pimbly at Claremont
Gunshots fired at him in South America was the jolt that saw Andrew Pimbly return to his childhood home of Claremont Farm. It was 2003 and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was pushing his nationalisation drive toward self-styled socialism.
Aggie is adored by everyone. People come to see her and bring presents and gifts.
Pimbly, now 44-years-old and a father of two, once thought farming was “really uncool” and wanted to be a PE teacher. After failing A Levels, it was agricultural college that presented as his last option.
With overseas stints in Australia (picking asparagus), Mozambique (fishing coach), Zimbabwe (tobacco/cattle ranching) and lastly, Venezuela (cattle ranching for the Vestey Family), his travels brought him home with a wealth of agricultural-based skills.
Nearly 20 years on, Claremont is a busy working farm, restaurant, and food store. It’s been in the same family since 1906 and as family businesses go, it remains tightly knit. His father Ian is still the main tractor driver (he’s 80 this year), his brother Guy who is joint managing director runs the shop and the accounts and Andrew’s wife Holly now runs the holistic therapy centre, The Calm Yard.
The shop and restaurant side of the business prides itself on delivering locally sourced produce in the cafe and selling local produce from the farm shop. It stocks products from over 50 local suppliers and other British ones. It also incorporates a local butcher, Whieldons, and has the Seafood Shack pop-up on site.
It’s a lot to juggle. Claremont had long employed EU workers, but after Brexit they returned home. Since then, Andrew has been working back in the fields, something he hadn’t done for 20 years.
“Covid was one thing - but Brexit has been a disaster on so many levels,” he says.
“The EU workers were the backbone of the farm. They also gave me the headspace needed to develop the other sides of the business. It means I’ve been very time-poor.”
It’s not that Andrew doesn’t enjoy working on the land. When the pandemic hit, in true free-spirited style, he was happy to jump on his tractor.
“The restaurant was shut, no events were happening. There was nothing in the diary, so I’d just turn up to the same field every day. For me, it became about the simple enjoyment of ploughing,” he says.
Once lockdown finished, Andrew had a double-whammy of issues. With nowhere for people to go, the farm became a destination magnet for those wanting some semblance of normality. On top of having no farm staff and still working in the fields, he was also having to try to find kitchen staff.
“We couldn’t find a chef - so could only open for two days per week. Then other staff issues were tricky, with absences for many different reasons.”
The good news is, a chef has been found, so the kitchen is back to opening six days per week. But, as with other similar businesses, Brexit-related issues still remain. For Andrew it’s all about keeping the business real and authentic, plus supporting producers from as close to home as possible.
But he says some people still don’t get it.
“If you put something online that's about sustainability or buy local, it's not cool. Even though people know that to buy local is better for the environment, and better for your body, because it’s better quality food.
“People bang on about climate crisis and carbon footprint etc, but they still aren't supporting local produce like they should. They will still go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest chicken.”
Despite understandable frustrations, Andrew is resolutely upbeat and the business remains on an upward trajectory. Events, including film and music nights, have become very popular and helped to increase the sense of community, something that Andrew has worked hard at since opening to visitors.
“We’ve got a successful business, we need to get better at what we're doing,” he says.
“We need to improve customer service and we need to improve the events side, as that is where we want to grow.”
He explains how the business had to diversify because the farming side had become increasingly unsustainable. In the 1990s and onwards, large corporations ramped up squeezing profit margins. It was Andrew’s father that took the business along the pick-your-own and asparagus farming route.
“That’s when I began selling our own produce directly to the local chefs with the idea of picking in the morning, delivering in the afternoon, so they could put it on the menu in the evening,” he says.
“Suddenly there was a real story there. One of quality and freshness.”
Over recent years, there has been one celebrity addition to the business. Andrew’s rescue dog, Aggie, is gathering as much of a fan club as Monty Don’s dog, Nigel.
“Aggie is adored by everyone. People come to see her and bring Christmas presents and gifts,” Andrew says.
She inspired the naming of both Aggie’s Gin, distilled by local Sea Ridge Distillery, and Aggie's Indian Pale Ale, brewed by Black Dog Brewing Company. The latest dog addition to the Pimbly family, Uma-DJ, is just as cute. Watch this space to see if Uma might feature down the line in the ever-expanding Claremont Farm brand.
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