Farming in the early days
The story began when Will’s parents first came to Marshfield Farm in 1971. Times were hard, but they were young and enthusiastic. Will’s father would milk their small dairy herd of 50 Friesian cows out in the field in a mobile milking parlour. On cold mornings it would take him several hours just to defrost the pipes before milking could even begin!
The beginnings of an ice cream enterprise
By the time Will returned from agricultural college in the mid-1980s, the farm was pretty well established. Will needed something to keep him busy on the farm … he had an idea. The herd had doubled in size and there was plenty of fresh milk about. He had always been mad about ice cream. When he was at school he set up his own ice cream business, selling ice creams to his friends. So he decided to combine his two life-long passions – farming and ice cream. How hard could it be?
Things didn’t start too well. The first problem was that he had no money. The second was that he didn’t have the first idea about food preparation, let alone ice cream making! But with some help from his mother, a few books and a health & hygiene course, he slowly started to realise his dream and production got under way. Will married Dawn in 1991 and together they ran the ice cream business as a hobby in their spare time. He was farming full time and she was a full-time physiotherapist so there wasn’t a huge amount of time left to dedicate to their ice cream business. But they squeezed in as much time as they could, and gradually they started selling to more and more local pubs, restaurants, markets and shows, such as the Bath & West Show. When they were chosen to supply ice cream to The Pump Room in Bath, Will and Dawn's ice cream was given some real credibility and they realised that they had something special and could make the business a viable one.
The very first flavour they made was vanilla. This was followed by strawberry and chocolate. And these flavours are still the most popular out of Marshfield’s current range of nearly 30 ice creams and six sorbets. In those early days Will drove up to London in an old farm truck with a freezer strapped to the back to deliver ice creams to outlets in the city. They made every mistake in the book but over time their hard graft paid off.
The farm today
After many years of hard work and long hours the farm has grown to nearly 1,000 acres of organically farmed land. A lot has changed over the years, and last year Marshfield Farm Ice Cream celebrated 25 years of ice cream making.
Today, more than 20 staff now helps the farm and ice cream businesses all run smoothly. At full capacity 2,500 litres of ice cream is made every hour – that’s enough to fill 31 bathtubs every hour! Almost 30 different flavours of ice cream are produced, all in a converted cowshed on the farm, and all made with fresh organic milk produced by the cows. In fact, the ‘cow to cone’ process is so speedy that you can enjoy a scoop of ice cream 24 hours after the cow was milked!
These days you’ll find Marshfield Farm ice creams in some really unusual places – in staff canteens at the BBC, on-board cruise ships in the Norwegian fjords, on beach resorts in Portugal and at tourist spots such as Hampton Court Palace, The Tower of London and Bristol Zoo. Marshfield is sold in over 3,500 independent outlets. But while Will and Dawn have tweaked and improved their flavours over the years, they still stick to their original ethos of creating pure ice creams made with fresh milk and all-natural ingredients sourced as locally as possible.
There are now 200 cows on the 1,000-acre farm and a third of the milk they produce goes into the ice creams - the rest goes to a dairy to be bottled. In 1999, the farm became organic, certified by The Soil Association. This means looking after the environment and trying to be as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible. Organic crops grown include wheat, barley and oats as well as grass, which is made into silage and hay for the cattle.
One of Dawn's biggest passions is sharing the story of real ice cream-making and sustainable farming, with school and college groups. Marshfield Farm is even used as a case study for diversification in a number of local school's Geography classes.