J. STRINGER & SONS - STRINGERS ORGANICS
One sunny afternoon (armed with cake!) we made the short trip across the fields to go and meet up with Mike & Kate Stringer, husband and wife team of J. Stringer & Sons. You may know of the Stringer’s as a farming family – they are the third generation to farm on the Wolds, and some may know Mike from our joint links with Uncleby Education Centre, but most of you will know them as producers of Organic flours and oats, with the flours being milled on their farm.
We wanted to start at the beginning to find out how Mike got involved in organic farming. We found out that half way through his degree in Mechanical Engineering (he graduated with a BSc(Hons) in 1996), Mike realised that farming was in his blood, and after spending a short time in an office placement whilst at university he realised the great outdoors was too strong a pull!
Mike came home to the family farm where his Dad and Uncle where in partnership and found it wasn’t that easy to fit in with an already established business, and after already seeing a growing demand for organic farming, he decided to research this new farming route. Mike was fully supported with this new idea as it fitted in well with the family interests in conservation and the environment, and with his idea fully backed by the family they decided to give it a go! All of the livestock and around 50% of the arable land was set aside to become organic, but this wasn’t an overnight process. It takes two years to become certified and fully organic so patience is key! Also, at the time of going organic, they didn’t grow the raw wheat crop for the flour and oats they now produce so this was all a steep learning curve for this band of traditional farmers.
The J. Stringer & Sons brand didn’t start with flours and oats, they were seed potato growers who sold their surplus crop of larger, surplus potatoes to local customers and so that was where the brand was born! It was actually Mike’s parents who decided to go down the route of milling, when looking for a part-time role to fill as they were not quite ready to retire! They researched the equipment they would need and travelled to Austria to buy the flour mill and brought it back to the farm. It did take some time for them to pluck up the courage to get started but they did and the range they produced from home grew.
The farm was already growing a heritage brand called Maris Wigeon which was good for milling, but over the years their expertise grew and they didn’t just mill what the trade saw as good for the job, but listened to their customer base, including the millers and bakers, and also their feedback from the farmers’ markets they attended, and new varieties were discovered. This love of conservation, coupled with forward thinking continues today, as Mike is a founder member of the Yorkshire Grain Alliance trialling the growing of diverse grains for the group. Bakers and millers (and Mike and Kate!) are keenly awaiting harvest and their aim is to inspire more farmers in the area to grow these grains for them. Watch this space!
Currently the brand produces a core range of flours and oats and nearly all their produce goes into retail, bakeries, with some direct customers who buy in bulk. Lockdown saw a huge increase in demand for their flour (no it wasn’t just the supermarkets who struggled with demand!), and a great deal of those customers have remained loyal. Some looking for a local product, some looking for an organic product, and of course some crossover. But one thing they all found was a quality product, and their contribution to home baking is ever popular. At the time we met, one customer had just collected a 36kg load of flour for their own breadmaking use! Though they are not alone. Kate has also been swept up by the popularity of bread making, with a daily bake of sourdough and is now considered quite the expert! This has helped with the close conversations they have with bakeries and raised confidence in what they offer.
Though confidence must be high for this family as they were the original trailblazers to successfully farm organically in such a traditional farming area as the Wolds. Today their milling business may be a part time venture, but for them it’s all about balance. It was refreshing to hear them chat about the potential that they have, but know that they will only expand when the time is right for them. They are certainly not about creating a mass market product, and that includes their Organic Rapeseed Oil. Now this is a product that we get a lot of demand for, but generally this exclusive oil is sold before it’s bottled! We press and bottle this for the Stringers, so when we can get our hands on it, we’ll be sure to shout out loud!
We wanted to find out where this hardworking couple eat when they get some time away and will dive back to when things go back to normal, and they have two favourite places. If staying local they can’t think of a better place to go than The New Malton, (yes, it’s in Malton) and can’t fault the food (especially the veggie options – Kate used to be vegetarian), the wine list and the atmosphere. If venturing out further afield for a special occasion, Skosh in York it has to be. Their contemporary British cooking has an international influence, food is locally sourced, and their concept kitchen delivers dishes that stretch your mind! Kate’s exact words.
So what’s next for the Stringers? Their work with heritage crops and new varieties will continue, as will Mike’s work with our Farm Discovery Days at Uncleby Education Centre. When our Adam & Mike get to both run free of charge, outdoor education days for school children of all ages. They are so keen to get back to sharing the countryside around us to educate the next generation, and hopefully it won’t be too long before they are sharing their love of farming again.
Their own next generation are also very involved in the farm. Mike’s son, Sam lives and works on the farm and daughter Charlotte’s schoolwork is currently very driven by what happens on the farm. She has another year at school and has plans to go to vet school.
Today the farm certainly keeps Mike and the small team busy with around 1100 acres including cattle, sheep and both organic and conventional crops. And Kate not only manages the flour mill, but also runs her very in demand veterinary physiotherapy business.
What did we learn in our short time with Mike and Kate? Well, we feel like we’ve been on a journey with this farming family who stepped up, broke the mould and have been forerunners ever since. But this couple don’t let it go to their heads, both Mike & Kate are very modest and relaxed about what they do, though their passion for whatever they put their hand to is evident and we look forward to what they get up to next!
STICKY FIGGY FLAPJACKS WITH STRINGER'S OATS
Stringer oats are seriously versatile, why not try our delicious recipe using them, and our Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil of course! Find the recipe here.