Recently, The Farmers Mart had the pleasure of meeting up with Chris Jeffery, or as an increasing number of you will know him as “Farmer Chris” from the hit reality show “Celebs on the Farm”, but more of that later.
Chris is a farmer through and through – it’s a way of life he has enjoyed from childhood. Both his parents and grandparents were farmers at Wigginton. However, this impressive line of Yorkshire farmers began with Chris’s great grandfather George Jeffery, who started farming in the 1920’s at Appleton Roebuck. Chris had a fantastic childhood on the farm, being involved in everything day to day with both his father Bill and his Grandfather Bob. It was always Chris’s dream to have a farm of his own, which he now has – Spring View Farm near Easingwold is home to Chris’s rare breed cows, pigs and sheep. Chris is particularly proud of what he has at Spring View, however, to appreciate why, we need to turn back the clock to understand some of the journey he has been on.
After leaving school, Chris went to Askham Bryan College to learn more of the technical side of farming as well as many of the new innovations coming up at the time. After college, he became a very successful pig unit manager and from then on did several things: milkman, insurance adviser, meat humper, as well as getting married three times! The background and details around this changeable and eventful period are another wholly interesting story.
If we then fast forward to 1997, Chis was working at Laycock’s of Skipton (now owned by Carrs Billington) as an animal health sales representative. It was here where he met his current wife Kate. They were both working at Laycock’s as a team for some seven years. Chris has always had the desire to have his own business and farm. Whilst at Laycock’s Chris became aware that Ray Green Animal health at Northallerton was up for sale following Ray’s passing. This had been a very successful one-man business for more than twenty years situated in a very small shop next to Northallerton Auction Mart.
As Chris and Kate had a very good working relationship, Chris asked Kate is she fancied coming in with him if he could buy Ray Green’s – she was, most definitely. So, with that, Chris went to see Ray’s widow Jackie and agreed a deal and they bought the business.
Thus in 2004, Green’s Farm Supplies Ltd began. Both Chris and Kate worked like Trojans in the next two years building the business up. This was also helped by many Laycock customers following Chris and Kate, testament to the strong relationships they had built up, as we know working relationships within farming are paramount for continued success.
2006 was another milestone year. Green’s was going from strength to strength and was doing so well that they had really outgrown the Northallerton site, so they decided to look for bigger premises to relocate to so that they could really grow and develop the business further. So, in September 2006, they transferred to the brand-new state of the art Rural Business Centre at Thirsk Auction Mart, which had just opened in the August.
At the time, Chris and Kate were both living and commuting locally and again in this milestone year of 2006 another important event, they officially got together and moved in with each other! Next year, Chris and Kate will have been married for ten years. Would you know it, Chris proposed in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there’s another story for later.
From 2006 Green’s Farm Supplies Ltd really flourished, they still had the shop at Northallerton as well as at Ripon and Malton. They employed fourteen people, also sold livestock equipment, bulk feed and much more. Chris and Kate continued to manage the whole business between them, that way they knew they could maintain both customer satisfaction and supply the very best of everything.
In early 2018, they were approached by a larger company who were interested in acquiring Green’s. The whole process Chris told me was an arduous process, with accountants and solicitors battling on both sides with scant regard it appeared for either the business or the Jeffreys. So, in October Chris pulled out having learnt much. Should they sell in the future, the process would be radically different Chris assures me.
The whole process did force Chris and Kate to take stock of what they really wanted, immediately and long term and gave them as Chris said to me “A kick up the arse”.
So, it was time for some tough decisions. They decided to rationalise the business, they had fifteen staff and carried some £400,000 in stock. The other shops were closed, they stopped selling equipment, greatly reduced, stock levels and, the most regrettable part of the whole process, they had to make four people redundant.
This has made Thirsk a much more profitable unit and allowed them time to really develop the site. Even though they don’t have as large a space at Thirsk, the business is positively thriving. They have invested in a laser tag machine which is housed upstairs on the mezzanine. This has been a big investment but has paid off very well. Farmers can literally turn up and get what tags they need when they need them, whereas if they order online it can take up to 5 days and as we know, when a farmer wants something, generally they want it now! Also, they can buy from Green’s in whatever quantity they want.
Another new addition to the store is Mrs Pumphrey’s Farm Shop (named after the character in “All Creatures Great and Small”). This has become hugely popular. They stock fresh local meat and veg and produce, all sourced from local and/or Yorkshire suppliers, including sausages from Masham, sausages from Melmerby, bread from Clarkes of Easingwold and Bothams of Whitby, rapeseed oil from Wharfe Valley Rapeseed of Wetherby, to name but a few of many.
Lockdown has been a challenge for many; however, farm shops have seen a big surge in custom as people prefer to shop locally, but more than that, appreciate the quality of non-mass-produced food and how much better it cooks and tastes. Mrs Pumphrey’s has been, and continues to be busy, and at the height of Lockdown they were selling 2 tonnes of compost a day! It was almost reminiscent of the war years and the grow your own programme. The store also supplies wood, coal and kindling and they even now have an in-situ dog grooming parlour.
Chris and Kate really enjoy the business and have a dedicated team around them. They really can deliver the very best produce, agricultural supplies and service. They have always held the prestigious Suitably Qualified Person (SQP) status. This is a legal category of professionally qualified people who, under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations, are entitled to prescribe and/or supply certain veterinary medicines (POM-VPS and NFA-VPS) for companion animals, equines, farm animals and birds.
So, it is no surprise to learn that Green’s Farm Supplies Ltd are the winners of the National SQP Awards 2020 Independent Store of the Year, this is for the second time no less! The National SQP Awards are staged annually by OvertheCounter magazine and Lewis Business Media to recognise excellence and best practice in the animal health and welfare industry.
On the back of the success of Green’s, Chris has been able to fulfil his other great ambition, to own his own farm – stemming from his childhood memories with cattle crops and chickens on the family farm. In 2015, Chris and Kate were able to buy Spring View Farm which, although you wouldn’t think so as Chris and I walked around it, is in fact a small holding. When they took it on, it was completely run down, with a ramshackle farmhouse, broken fences and sheds dropping to bits. In short, there was no part of the farm that didn’t need attention. Given both Chris and Kate’s good heads for business, they set about a five-year plan, which you can now see has come to splendid fruition. The farmhouse we sat in is immaculate yet traditional and even has a wonderful conservatory and back garden – not something you usually see in a farmhouse. All the fences have been renewed or repaired, gates installed and water troughs and feeders in every field for the animals. Yards and shed concreted and repaired. The whole property is one of the neatest and tidiest farms I’ve seen.
Animals on the farm are all rare breeds from the Oxford Sandy and Black pigs (nicknamed plum pudding pigs due to their colouring) to the Herdwick, Hebridean, Kerry Hill and Border Leicester sheep to the vary rare breed of Whitebred Shorthorn cows of which there are only 200 breeding cows in the world! They also have some Belted Galloways. Chris decided to go for rare breed animals in the main, as these produce some of the best and tastiest meat, plus the fact the size of the farm isn’t suitable for a large commercial herd. Chris told me he absolutely loves being able to walk round the entire farm and see and check on his animals at any time.
As we walked around, the animals were inquisitively content and all of them came when beckoned by Chris, that’s those who hadn’t already walked up to see who the stranger was with Chris.
The initial five-year plan with the farm is now pretty much complete; on the horizon for next year is to convert part of one of the barns into a tea room for the many walkers and cyclists the area attracts, there is an old separate kitchen area in the farmhouse which will be separated off to provide support facilities for the tea room. There will clearly be some lovely fare to be had at the new tearoom, with all meat coming fresh from the farm!
I have yet to meet a farmer who isn’t constantly on the go and doing a whole host of things at once. Chris however takes this and farm diversification to a whole new level with his separate TV career!
As I mentioned briefly at the at the start, he is the judge on Channel 5Star “Celebs on the Farm” show. I asked Chris how this came about. As with many of these types of things, really by chance.
About three years ago, Chris was with Skeldale Vets where Julian Norton was practicing, as well as starring in the Channel 5 show, “The Yorkshire Vet”. One day Julian turned up at the farm with a film crew and asked if Chris would mind them doing a bit of filming. Being the accommodating chap, he is, Chris said “Fine”. They all got along very well, and the producer said if you have anything interesting let us know. To which Chris replied, “Well I have a sow that needs inseminating, if that’s of any interest?” Which it definitely was.
The crew turned up to film the insemination, this ended up producing one of the funniest episodes of “The Yorkshire Vet”, the reason being that in order to inseminate a pig, the farmer needs to sit on the back of the sow, this simulates the action of the pig climbing on, the vet then goes ahead with the process on inseminating. Suffice to say, getting the sow to stay still and have Chris climb on provided a whole host of amusing takes. Following that, they came back to the farm on a number of occasions.
Louise Cowmeadow, who is the series producer and editor, had a call from a friend of hers, Richard Woolfe, who said they were looking for a farmer to be a judge on a new celebrity programme “Celebs on the Farm” and could she recommend anyone. She obviously mentioned Chris. She called Chris up who was gobsmacked and said “Me, I not an actor I’m just a farmer!” Louise persuaded him to go and meet with Richard Wolf and the presenter Stephen Bailey. A week later, Chris was on a farm in Sussex with eight celebs, most of which he didn’t know apart from one Lorraine Chase who was very friendly and made him feel welcome. The rest, as they say, is history. Chris has formed friendships with a number of the celebs who have appeared, including Shaun Williamson and Kerry Katona.
As I have alluded to a couple of times, there seem to be some events in Chris’s life that definitely need expanding on – farmers proposing in the middle of the Indian Ocean? What’s all that about? Three wives? Career changes, walking with celebs and being followed by the paparazzi and – something I haven’t mentioned – an affair with a Russian Beauty???
Chris has had some amazing experiences and some great highs, sometimes lurching from one to another but always smiling, however behind all of this there have been some truly dark places he has been. A story well worth telling. So, on the 14th December, Chris’s autobiography “Farming Celebs and Plum Pudding Pigs” was published by Great Northern Books and is available now! Both at the Green’s store and online. The book was suggested to Chris by friend and author Chris Berry who in conversation one day said, “You know what Chris, there is a book in all of this.
So the remarkable story about Farmer Chris can be read in full and as Chris has had some very dark moments and knows only too well the loneliness and suicide rate linked to farming, he will be contributing £1 from every book sale to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance. For more information about the book see www.farmerchris.co.uk
As Chris said to me, “Always talk to someone”. Well it was certainly a pleasure to chat with Chris. You get a sense of his immense pride in what he has achieved with Green’s, from its small beginnings to its exalted position today, establishing Spring View Farm and what he has achieved along with Kate in such a short space of time, coupled with that, a whole barrel-load of fun with “Celebs on the Farm”.
We wish Chris and Kate continued success and Chris all the best with the book and the TV. The next series of “Celebs on the Farm” airs on MTV on the 18th January and features Ashley Tyson’s farm in North Yorkshire, Stepney Hill Farm.