As he gears up for his walking tours at Symondsbury Estate, Alasdair McNab, owner of regenerative farming business, The Old Ways, chats to us about what led him into agriculture and his partnership with the Estate. For the past three months he’s been rearing animals in our woodlands and grasslands, and producing delicious produce that has nature at it’s heart.
What led you to starting up your business, The Old Ways?
I studied International Agri-Business at Harper Adams University, which was great, but my course almost coached me out of aspiring to have my own farm as the commercial scale of conventional farming felt impossible. That’s why I started my own business in hospitality instead, running pubs in Exeter and Bridport for a number of years, but at the back of my mind I thought I’d come back to farming at some point.
That moment was at the end of the pandemic, having had time to think about things during lockdown, and I thought, if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.
The thing that made me feel that it was doable stemmed from all the reading I’d been doing around regenerate agriculture – something that simply wasn’t taught at university when I was studying. In particular, it was Joel Salatin’s book, You Can Farm, which gave me the conﬁdence to start up.
I started talking to landowners in and around Bridport, and Philip Colfox (who owns Symondsbury Estate) understood what I was trying to achieve and had the perfect land available for me to keep my animals on without impacting on the Estate’s existing enterprises.
So, what does the Old Ways Do?
We have 250 laying hens on the Estate and have just taken delivery of 7 pigs. We’ll shortly be increasing that to around 30 growers at a time and later this month I’ll have 100 turkeys for the Christmas market.
We’re a very small scale farming business where I do everything, from processing to marketing and selling. My hope is that I’ll prove the concept over the next 12 months, grow the business next year and then take on staﬀ.
I’m building the business around the components of the ‘Full English’, selling sausages, bacon and eggs – and I hope to expand into tomatoes and mushrooms and maybe start making relishes and tomato sauce. People can buy my products at Symondsbury Estate, via a subscription delivery service and also in shops and restaurants in Beaminster and Bridport.
Can you explain what makes you a ‘regenerative farming business’?
The principles of regenerative farming are essentially to build top soil, improve soil health and sequester carbon – which means capturing, removing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the earth’s atmosphere.
For me, this means storing more carbon than I’m making (carbon negative) and mimicking nature rather than trying to control it. So instead of conﬁning my animals permanently in one place, I bring them together in one area, they eat the vegetation and then they are moved on, leaving their manure behind – just as they would do if they were wild.
Why should this matter to people?
Increasingly, people care about the provenance of their food, the welfare of the meat they consume and their impact on the environment and local, natural ecosystems. Interestingly, agriculture is one of the biggest polluters in the world so moving towards more regenerative ways of farming is an important part of addressing the climate catastrophe. Sustainable suggests that the status quo is acceptable, something to be sustained, which it is not. The regenerative movement aims to use agriculture as the most obvious solution to the problem.
But if that’s not enough, the taste of what I produce is also on another level compared to more intensively farmed animals. If you eat healthy animals that can express natural behaviours and eat as naturally as possible then the meat and eggs you get are simply much more nutritious and delicious.
Join Alasdair on Saturday 30th September and Thursday 26th October for a FREE walking tour of his farming enterprise at Symondsbury Estate.