Placeholder canvas
My Green Pod Logo

Inspiring inclusion in dairy farming

Yeo Valley Organic co-founder Mary Mead OBE reflects on her role in the journey of Britain’s largest organic brand
Mary Mead, Yeo Valley Organic

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 08 March 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

It’s been 60 years since my husband Roger and I started our farming career at Holt Farm; after 50 years as a yoghurt maker and 30 years as an organic brand, I thought it might be interesting to cast my mind back over that time and the changes dairy farming has experienced.

In 1961, when Holt Farm was purchased, milk producers in the UK numbered around 100,000, with an average herd size of 22. Today 90% of those farms have gone, and a herd of 200 is more common.

A growing family

In 1961, Roger and I were able to secure the 150-acre Holt Farm in Blagdon, North Somerset. The farm had accommodation for 35 cows and a small milking parlour.

We quickly decided that the land, which tended to be wet, didn’t really suit sheep, so we started to increase the number of dairy cows.

We also increased the size of our family; Sarah, born in 1962, was joined by Tim in 1963. Amanda completed our family in 1969.

In 1970 we took the opportunity to purchase the neighbouring 40-acre Lag Farm, after arranging further borrowing.

We were up to about 150 cows on 200 acres. Later on, we bought Merecombe Farm across the road; this added another 90 acres, but the land needed reclaiming.

Eventually we added a milking parlour; we milked most of the herd here in the summer, taking Holt for silage.

Yoghurt from leftovers

Using converted buildings at Lag Farm and secondhand equipment bought from a recently defunct milk collection centre, we took the first tentative steps to trial the making of yoghurt.

Holt Farm lay beside a busy road, and we had also launched into ‘pick your own strawberries and sweetcorn’, as well as growing and selling potatoes.

We had established a small café with home-baked scones and jam, with cream from our dairy herd. Yoghurt was the perfect solution for using the skimmed milk left over from making cream, though it was still very much a novelty back then.

In 1974 we began making yoghurt for local shops. The new enterprise took up more and more of Roger’s time; I had always been involved in keeping the books and this became my prime input for the farm.

However, I had become increasingly fascinated by the breeding of British Friesians, and this became an all-consuming passion!

Fulfilling a vision

After Roger died in a farming accident in 1990, I took on the responsibility for the farm as, together with our son Tim, we decided to fulfil his vision for the business.

At the time the farm covered 350 acres and the yoghurt business employed 135 people. With Tim joining Yeo Valley, Roger’s existing management team and the talented individuals who have since joined us, the business has grown to formerly unimaginable heights.

Converting to organic

The decision to convert the farm to an organic system in 1994 was a logical progression to help us become more self-sufficient; of course, the success of the Yeo Valley Organic products meant there was also a growing demand for organic milk.

However, organic is no easy choice – nor is it quick; it was over eight years before we achieved our organic status across all the land.

The use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides is, of course, prohibited and it has been fascinating to observe how well the land and animals have reacted to the change to a more natural way of farming.

Inclusive farming

Over the years it has been a privilege to witness more women deciding they would like to join the farming industry; noticeably women working with livestock.

At Yeo Valley Organic’s own farms, we are fortunate to have equal numbers of women and men working on the farm.

It has been a pleasure to observe an inclusive environment for all, where everyone feels valued and part of a team. What a journey it has been.

Award-winning dedication

Yeo Valley Organic co-founder Mary Mead OBE recently won the Holstein UK’s Lifetime Achievement Award for dedicating more than 20 years of service to the dairy industry and British Friesian breed.

Here's more related content

Valley Fest Main Stage
Arts & Fashion

Valley Fest

Yeo Valley’s Sarah and Tim Mead have turned Valley Fest into the go-to family festival – whatever your age.

Read More »

Join The Conversation

Leave a Reply

Here's More Ethical Food & Drink News & Features

  • All
  • Alcohol
  • COP28
  • Fairtrade
  • Halloween
  • Hero
  • P.E.A. Awards
  • Spirits
  • activism
  • activists
  • agriculture
  • app
  • arts
  • awards
  • beauty
  • biodiversity
  • birds
  • books
  • business
  • climate
  • climate action
  • climate justice
  • cocktails
  • coffee
  • community
  • consciousness
  • cooking
  • dairy
  • diet
  • drinks
  • emissions
  • ethical business
  • events
  • farmers
  • farming
  • food
  • food waste
  • gifts
  • health
  • leadership
  • legal
  • meat
  • microplastics
  • money
  • natural products
  • nature
  • organic
  • packaging
  • photography
  • plant-based
  • plastic
  • plastic pollution
  • plastics
  • policy
  • politics
  • recipe
  • recycle
  • recycled
  • regenerative
  • schools
  • shopping
  • skincare
  • soil
  • sprits
  • supply chain
  • sustainability
  • tech
  • vegan
  • waste
  • wedding
  • women
  • zero carbon