An interview with Jimmy Doherty of Jimmy's Farm
PUBLISHED: 12:24 27 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:24 27 March 2018
There's much more to Jimmy Doherty than a TV show with his pal Jamie Oliver, as Georgina Blaskey discovers
You may know a few things about Jimmy Doherty. He’s an Essex boy, he’s a pig farmer, he’s Jamie Oliver’s best mate, he presents Food Unwrapped (among many other TV shows) and he’s passionate about food and farming.
But did you know he had a degree in zoology and a PhD in entomology, the study of insects?
“As a child I was obsessed with nature and wildlife, like Gerald Durrell! I had terrapins, ferrets, snakes… I’ve always been into nature. I have a big love for traditional breeds of livestock and I kept chickens when I was nine,” he smiles.
When Jamie went to catering college, Jimmy hit the books, but missed contact with animals. “My PhD took me away from the visceral element of nature and I was keen to get back in to the soil.
Rare breeds and pigs excite me, so I decided to train as a pig farmer in 2002.” A year later Jimmy’s Farm broadcast and he became a household name. “You can do a lot with pigs – sausages, bacon, ham – but since then we’ve expanded to include seven breeds of pigs, six of cattle, sheep and 8,000 turkeys. It’s a contemporary mixed farm with tradition running through it.”
Talking to Jimmy, you can’t help but be enthused by his passion for farming.
“I’m president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and I like visitors to the farm to understand about the diversity of the industry and how it supports nature. We also have a farm park with a zoo licence; we have tropical butterflies, meerkats, reptiles and free¬flying birds.”
Getting visitors to connect with farming is top of Jimmy’s agenda. “A healthy rich environment creates healthy rich food. After hand, foot and mouth disease and BSE (mad cow disease), there was a disconnect from farming and people were suspicious. Everything you read about farming was an ‘exposé’.
“But farmers look after our landscape, such as the footpaths and hedges; the countryside is a cultivated garden farmers manage. Farmers are experts in animal welfare, veterinary science, they have to be chemists and biologists; it’s a diverse job!
“One week you may be creating a pest control solution using wasps, on another you may be considering an engineering concept for greener tractors. Whilst the job may appear ‘hard’ to some people – with the elements and long hours – there are many different aspects to farming, from fish farmers to arable farmers, so there are choices.
“And you are blessed with witnessing the seasons, birthing animals, watching barn owls hunting... I feel so rewarded.”
Combining the farm’s needs and a globe¬trotting TV career is complex. “I have 40 full¬time staff and I couldn’t leave the farm if it wasn’t for my wife, Michaela, who runs it in partnership with me. I’m very lucky! My three children – Neve, two, Cora, five, and Molly, seven (there’s a fourth on the way in spring) – help get the cows in or watch the meerkats.
“For them it’s a totally normal life. On site we have a butchery, a farm park and a shop, as well as our annual summer festival. If you come in summer 2018, you will have the time of your life! You can walk through the park and woods, meet the keepers, the pigs and see every element of the farm in play.
“There’ll be butchers giving demonstrations, chefs cooking live, and great music acts on the main stage as well as smaller, acoustic groups around. You can go fishing, den building, hear talks about cattle breeds. We started ten years ago and were the first, truly family-friendly festival.
“It’s totally inclusive – we even have a breastfeeding area, a childcare site, and affordable camping options.”
Despite Jimmy’s obvious love for Britain and Suffolk, where his farm is, TV has taken him around the world and he’s been inspired by other farming systems. “Iceland and Ethiopia have the best diet of the countries I have visited.
“In Iceland, their lambs graze on volcanic soil and the dairy cattle feed on preserved grass, which is mineral rich. In Ethiopia they consume a lot of leafy greens and whole grains, not much meat, yet these two countries don’t push the environment too hard and they provide nutrient dense food.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Jimmy’s got big plans for 2018. “Our focus is the revamped online butchery. We have Butcher Farrell of Hong Kong fame with a worldwide reputation as our resident butcher (check out his Instagram @butcherfarrell to get the meat juices flowing).
“We’ll be doing demos, classes and relaunching the website. High¬street butchers have so much to offer – they can talk you through cuts, slice your steak just how to want it, they’re authentic. There’s no waste, they utilize the whole animal. At our butchery visitors can just turn up – it’s an open house policy.”
The TV shows are doing brilliantly and there’s more of the same next year to press the record button for.
“Jamie and I will be continuing with another series of Friday Night Feast. We loved having Mark Hamill and Liv Tyler on, but Johnny Vegas was a surprise – did you know he has a teapot in the V&A?”
And on that, Jimmy has to go, but his parting comment says it all – a family man with a passion for the land, animals and people, with a sprinkling of fame on the side, but always kept firmly on the side.