UK family gets back to basics with farm business

Originally appeared in the Daily Gleaner  on April 23, 2012

Cole Burston/ Daily Gleaner photo.

Cole Burston/ Daily Gleaner photo.

On one wall, shelves hold all of Sue Warrington’s baking and cooking supplies: the soya sauce is next to the Tupperware container of sugar; the bright yellow bottle of lemon juice is next to the spices.

Baking sheets, pans and bowls are stacked underneath the sink, and a bright pink hand towel rests on top of a bowl of rising bread. It must be almost ready; the towel is starting to resemble a shirt stretched snug over a baby belly and the kitchen is starting to smell like a bakery.

“You know, we’ve got less money than we’ve ever had and yet we’re probably eating better than we ever have,” Sue’s husband, Keith, says, checking on the bread.

Sue and Keith are the owners and sole operators of The Warrington Farm, a bakery business specializing in preserves and English-style baked goods. They also have five children between the ages of eight and 16.

The kitchen is the centre of their home: the large Pioneer Princess cook stove is the only source of heat in their country farmhouse just outside of Harvey Station. Their kitchen not only produces daily meals but also countless cakes, pies, scones and hundreds of jars of preserves for the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market.

The Warringtons left Chedzoy, a small village in Somerset, England, five years ago.

“This is the smallest place we’ve ever lived in with the children the biggest they have ever been and it’s probably the happiest we’ve ever been,” Sue says, laughing.

Sue and Keith began their business in the U.K. in 2001.

“We had just had our third child and I was very unhappy as a pharmaceutical rep,” Sue says. “We were basically looking for a way that I could stay home. My parents had always made preserves and I had made them for home so we decided we would give that a go.”

The logic was that if it didn’t catch on, everyone would be receiving homemade Christmas gifts that year.

The business was, and still is, successful, with a reserve list of 50 preserves, some seasonal and others standard fare.

“There are certain things, like gooseberry jam, that you do when the gooseberries are ready. You pick them, you freeze them, and once they’re gone, that’s it. And our Christmas Chutney. We just sold out of that and it won’t be back until November,” Sue says. “There are other things, like blueberries, that we can do year-round.”

Today, the cook stove is producing a comforting heat and a faint smell of the wood they’re burning. Sue and Keith are both enjoying a rest from the heavy baking required for Saturday mornings in Fredericton.

On Fridays, the three ovens and two refrigerators in Sue’s average-sized family kitchen will be in constant use. Their workday will begin about 8:30 a.m. and the car is usually packed by nine Friday evening.

On Saturday mornings, Sue and eldest son Robert will arrive at 5:20 a.m. to set up their stall at the market.

The jars of preserves are stacked by flavour in miniature pyramids, the boxes and bags of baking on one side, homemade greeting cards on the other, adding an extra splash of colour to their stall. Each different preserve has one open jar and Popsicle sticks for sampling. The Warrington Farm sign hangs overhead, behind the stall, with orders set aside on shelves.

Sue is a familiar and welcoming face for many at the market. With bustling crowds, and buzzing conversation the market is not only a place for local products and produce, but also conversation.

Stamatia Eliakis frequents the markets and looks forward to The Warrington Farm lemon curd as a special treat several times throughout the year.

“I actually threw out some commercial lemon curd once, because it tasted like lemon-flavored Vaseline in comparison,” Eliakis says.

She says The Warrington Farm products are high quality. A faulty layer of wax on another vendor’s crab apple jelly brings her back to the Warringtons.

“I don’t have that sort of problem with them.”

The Warringtons have both British and Canadian customers, several regulars who place weekly orders, and others who simply know and rely on the uniform baking list. The Warringtons also support other vendors by buying local fruits and vegetables.

“You have a sense of community not just with the customers that you serve, but with all the other store holders,” Sue says. “You get the feeling that the community will support you and wants you to do well.”

One of more than 100 vendors and four preserve businesses, Sue says there is a sense of belonging at the market.

“We have good friends and good support here,” she says. “When we first started at the market, people would come up and be curious about who we were and why we moved. Over the years, some of them have become good friends.”

Farmers markets are vital for small businesses like theirs, Sue says. With only 10 per cent of the business being wholesale, the Warringtons rely on the community.

“It does take time and it’s word of mouth. It’s people seeing that you’re consistently there and consistently good.”