50 Years at Middle Farm – a bit of history
October 2010 was our 50th anniversary! John Pile first took over Middle Farm in October 1960, and he and his family have run the business here ever since.
The land at Middle Farm was notoriously difficult to farm, due to its very heavy clay soil. So Mr Pile and his wife Vivienne knew that immense hard work, determination and imagination would be needed to make the business viable.
Mr Pile had been breeding bantams and chickens since the age of twelve – indeed, it was his eggs that introduced the Houdan bantam breed to North America in 1952 when he was just fifteen. So in his first years at Middle Farm he set up a large poultry flock. He also established a pedigree dairy herd using cows from his father’s herd in the nearby village of Glynde.However the business still struggled, until John and Vivienne had a revolutionary idea. They had eggs, milk, apples from the orchard, and Vivienne baked wonderful bread, cakes and jam – so why not set up a shop right here on the farm, selling produce made at Middle Farm and by other local producers?
And so Middle Farm Shop opened, one of the first farm shops in the country. At first the shop operated from the farm kitchen, but it soon became so popular and well-known that more space was needed. So some of the beautiful Victorian farm buildings were converted, and the shop moved to its present premises. The rest, as they say, is history.
In more recent years, Mr Pile set up the cider business, collecting cider from small farms all over the west country to sell at Middle Farm. In the 1990s, part of the farm was opened up to the public and schools – another innovation which has since been followed by many other farms. A restaurant was also opened, to showcase dishes cooked from local ingredients, and a Gift Shop was set up in the former cart lodge. A plant shop was added, and more recently Mr Pile has developed a new business selling animal feed and housing.
John Pile is still at Middle Farm almost every day. Since 2002 he has held the tenancy jointly with his daughter Helen. Helen and her husband Rod have continued the family tradition of celebrating British food and farming with passion and innovation. They have expanded the cider shop into the world-famous showcase for traditional cider and perry that is today, and they have also set up the fabulous Middle Farm Apple Festival, the annual Wassail, and many other events.
The last 50 years have seen many highs and lows, but we have survived and even thrived, in spite of all the difficulties that farming has faced during that time.However, none of this would have been possible without our wonderful, dedicated and passionate staff and customers. So we would like to take the opportunity of our anniversary to thank all of you – it is you, above all, who have made Middle Farm such a success over the last 50 years. Let us hope that it will continue for many long years to come.