By combining her background in the education sector with her passion for UK agriculture, the new Ladies in Pigs chairman, Debbie Wilson, is looking forward to making a difference to the sector. Hannah Noble finds out more.
Despite never previously being involved with Ladies in Pigs, Debbie Wilson decided the time was right to go for the role as its chairman.
“My husband, Nigel, spotted the job advert in the paper,” says mother-of-three Debbie.
“It was the right thing at the right time. I always say life is too short, you have to have fun.
“I had always admired the organisation from afar and I’m a bit of a 120 per cent girl. I’m all in, or all out, so I thought it was time to give it a go.
“Now the children have left home, they are less financially dependent and it has given me the opportunity to follow a career which really drives me. “I am passionate about UK agriculture and this role allows me to combine my background in education, my creative side, and my love of pig farming.”
Following 16 years in the education sector, working in the East-Riding and Hull authorities as a senior tutor, Debbie hopes to use her experience working in schools to help young people build transferable skills, such as cooking on a budget and learning about agriculture.
“I have taught primary age children to 70-year-olds looking to help their grandchildren with their GCSE’s. Coming from a background in education, often working in poor inner-city areas, I can see the disparity between town and country.
“Just because children grew up in the middle of the city with no agricultural background doesn’t mean they can’t have a career in the industry. We also have to do all we can to make people aware there is more to farming than just being a farmer.”
Ladies in Pigs is an advocate for Red Tractor certified products and Debbie admits her husband was sceptical of the benefit it brings to farmers. However, Debbie succeeded in convincing him if certifications, such as Red Tractor, encourage people to buy British produce, it supports British agriculture too. Their farm is now one of more than 2,000 pig farms to carry a Red Tractor mark.
Debbie is keen to focus on developing the web and social media platforms of Ladies in Pigs, as she realises this is paramount to enable promotion of the industry to a wider audience.
“Everything has suddenly gone digital. Many farmers have not grown up using computers and need some help to allow their businesses to survive.
“My husband is hoping to get a drone for his birthday. I am thinking of using it to demonstrate a real day in the life of a real farm. We need to raise awareness of farming to the wider public in innovative and different ways.”
Ladies in Pigs will be giving out recipe booklets throughout this year’s show season, and here Debbie shares one of her favourites.
For the pork casserole
1 tbspn olive oil
900g pork shoulder, trimmed and diced
3 tbspn plain flour, seasoned with black pepper
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
150ml Real ale
1tbspn white wine vinegar
1 tbspn pork gravy granules or stock cube, crumbled
Parsley, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tbspn brown sugar
For the dumplings
100g self raising flour
25g butter, unsalted
Cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
1 tbspn semi skimmed milk
1 Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan with lid. Coat the pork in the seasoned flour, add to the pan and brown on all sides. Lower the heat, then add the onion and garlic
2 Once the onion and garlic have started to soften add the water, ale, vinegar, gravy granules, herbs
and sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time
3 Cover the pan with a lid and place in the oven to cook for about one and hour hours
4 Make the dumplings by sifting the flour into a bowl and rubbing the butter in to form a semi-crumble mix. Add the grated cheese and bind together with the egg and a little milk. Shape into eight small balls
5 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the dumplings to the casserole, replace the lid and return to the oven. Serve with Savoy cabbage
Debbie and her husband met aged 11 at their local Young Farmers Club, Thorngumbald, and they now farm with Nigel’s father, Chris, and their son Tom, 19. Tom has always dreamed of being a farmer and now takes an active role in its management, as well as being on call with his father as a retained firefighter.
“As Tom and Nigel are both in the service they share cover during busy periods on-farm and then both go when things are a bit quieter in the week.
“They are each on call for 100- 130 hours of cover a week on top of the farm hours. It can include going out of bed at night after a full day at work and also giving a lot of leave from the business when Tom was in training – which took about seven weeks. If they are at a fire during the day, they then have to make up the time on-farm to get the jobs done.”
Located on the east side of Hull, Southfield Farm is home to 120 WhiteRoc sows and bought-in replacement gilts.
“We keep the odd one as we like to keep any coloured gilts which come through. It adds a bit of interest.”
Pigs are taken right through from farrowing to finishing on-farm and the sows will stay as long as they are still healthy and producing, many of which have up to 12 litters. As well as pigs the family also have an arable enterprise, growing oilseed rape, wheat and barley, with the latter sold to the feed mill to produce the pig feed used at the farm.
“We are the epitome of a self-contained, self-sufficient, family farm. We grow crops to feed and bed our pigs, and all the muck is used on the land. If you do it right, there is still room for the traditional family farm,” she adds.
Passionate about British pork and bacon, Debbie took a butchery course a number of years ago to allow her to cut and sell produce from the farm.
“The shop was a great success, but when I was given the opportunity to go full-time in education I took it and moth-balled the shop for a while. You never know, we may get it up and running again one day.
“I am so passionate about British pork and bacon, I want to show people the care, attention and love which goes into farming. I have lots of ideas and projects to get my teeth into. It is going to be a busy first year.”