Words by Dan Warden
Trevaskis Farm has become something of a mecca for visitors – and locals – hoping to immerse themselves in true foodie Cornwall.
Trevaskis is a farm on which you can really experience the ‘field to fork’ ethos that more and more businesses are beginning to champion in this culinary county of ours. But it’s more than that. It’s a destination for everyone, from families in search of a no-nonsense evening of epicurean debauchery (if you’ve seen the dessert counter, you’ll know what I mean), to those who’ve decided to ‘opt out’ of the mass-produced shopping experience offered by the giant supermarket names and instead line their cupboards with meat, fish, produce and everything else that’s genuinely grown, reared and made ‘local’.
As a business, Trevaskis Farm is thriving, but such success hasn’t come without its challenges. Giles Eustice, who has taken the mantle of business-owner and who, over the years, has worn all of the many and varied hats – from chef, to picker, to shop-clerk - explains: “Our family has farmed – and mined – within the parish for 400 years. My father started the retail aspect of the farm in 1979/1980 but before that, we were traditional farmers – winter vegetables, beef cattle, summer crops. It was only after a pretty dire winter season that my father was left thinking ‘there’s got to be a different way of doing things”.’ This birthed the idea of planting strawberries, with which, at the time, “he didn’t quite know what he was going to do”, but he soon decided to open up the ‘pick your own’ experience that the farm still offers today.
“That was the birth of retail for us. Then in 1987, my mother decided to start a small restaurant and café to service the retail business. She cried for the first week though,” he remembers, “because I think everybody thought it was a new toilet block! Slowly but surely, however, people tuned into what she was doing, and quite quietly she went about building a monster – where families could enjoy good, wholesome farmhouse cooking. Her idyllic dream of shelling peas on the back doorstep became a distant reality,” laughs Giles, “as she went nose to the grindstone with the footfall that was coming through the door.”
It was his mother’s passion for desserts to which Giles, in a big way, attributes the reputation that the Trevaskis Farm restaurant has nurtured over the years. “That’s where our name came from – gluttonous, glorious desserts. Like Rick Stein hangs his hat on fish, we hang ours on our dessert counter, and it’s very much become our calling card.”
Knowing the work that Giles, his family and the wider team have put into the farm to transform it into the business it is today, it comes as a surprise to learn that it wasn’t the path he’d originally carved out for himself. “I went into computers and spent about eight, nine years just north of London, running a pretty large computer business and travelling the globe. It was,” he pauses, looking for the right word, “interesting. Different. You know, I did very well in it. It was around the time that I spotted a juncture in my time there – the folks weren’t getting any younger, and the food scene was getting stronger – and it was at that point that I thought people were starting to focus more on where their food came from and tuning in on healthy eating. So in 2004 I came back to pick up the family business and really, took on what was already a very, very good core business with a great reputation and a great local following.”
On his contribution, Giles says modestly: “I’ve just put some wings on it and tuned into what’s happening in the food environment, maybe brought it up to speed a little bit.” He cites the creation of the ‘farm park’ aspect, which welcomes groups, families and even local schools to take educational tours around the farm and gain an insight into the provenance of their food. In 2005, after spending a couple of years working on the farm and assessing the directions in which they could take it, Giles secured planning approval for a restaurant expansion that saw it double in size, and began building in 2006. Later still, in 2008, came the Farm Market, which he explains “totally transformed our traditional farm-gate sales into a viable alternative to the supermarkets, for those looking to opt-out.”
Sure enough, the shop was a success, too, and today visitors can stock their cupboards from a full-scale butchery, delicatessen and fishmongers, alongside baskets groaning under the weight of vegetables that, only minutes ago, were still growing in the fields. “It incorporates the very best of what we do locally, but also the best of what’s available from further afield. There’s a range of ready meals which we create fresh on the farm, for those with busy lifestyles, and we even have the household essentials available,” says Giles.
Keen to rewind back to the crops, fruits and salads found adorning the shop shelves, I ask Giles exactly what, in the shop and, indeed, the restaurant, is grown on the farm. The short answer, is a great deal, and if it isn’t, it’s because the farm is already full to bursting with livestock and crops. Even still, almost everything else is grown or reared locally, in some cases only up the road. On the farm itself, he explains: “We grow over 100 different crops. Money just can’t buy that freshness – being on the shelf when it’s in season, and has literally been growing minutes before. The difference in taste is just phenomenal. It’s the same with soft fruits and everything they get through on the dessert counter. We’re still growing more strawberries than ever, but also all of the other fruits – all of the bush fruits and the top fruits, the currants, the gooseberries, the raspberries.”
In terms of the meat, Giles explains there simply isn’t the room at Trevaskis to house the amount of livestock needed to feed the restaurant and farm shop. For this reason, the business pays a premium to other farms who rear their chosen breeds – ones on which, he tells me, Trevaskis has been able to hang its hat. The first, is South Devon Beef, which is the sole breed that crosses the butcher’s counter. The second is the British Lop Pig. “They used to be called the Cornish White and are now the British Lop. Our herd,” he explains, “goes back in the family for generations; I actually chair the breed’s society and I’m involved quite heavily with preserving its genetics. As with the beef, we have other producers who, while they don’t necessarily produce for us, are involved with keeping and sustaining the genetics of that rare breed, so we like to support them by buying their product. Incidentally, our pork sales are off the charts, simply because it eats sublimely and people have grown to know that.”
Trying to comprehend the logistics that must go into keeping the shop shelves and the restaurant menus in stock is not easy. Just for the desserts, the restaurant goes through 3,000 eggs a week, and that’s not to mention the produce, meat and fish required to feed the thousands of covers that the team welcome through the door every week. One thing that’s easy to understand, however, is the finesse with which the entire Trevaskis experience is brought to life.
It’s a destination for afternoon coffee and cake in the sun; for intrepid explorations with curious children interested to know more about the land and the animals it feeds; for indulgent family feasts where even the fussiest members will be catered for. It is also, as Giles says, an opportunity for those tired of the oft-unsustainable supermarket sweep, to opt out and instead champion the growers and producers that Trevaskis Farm Shop fosters under one roof. In short, it is a microcosm of everything that is great about Cornish food; a stake in the ground by a business determined to champion a bright, sustainable, epicurean future for the county we love so much.