Hurst Farm, where the famous Secretts produce is grown, is more than just a farm. This is a foodie and lifestyle destination where you can spend a few hours - and eat like royalty. Shall we?
Farming is no easy business. As the daughter of a farming family, I know first hand how tough it can be. And yet, the Secrett family at Milford, near Godalming, seem to have, er, unlocked the secret of success.
The family has been farming for 110 years, 82 of them on the 150 acre Hurst Farm at Milford near Godalming. The property is managed by fourth generation Secrett, Greg, who took over completely after his father Charles retired last year. Although, like any man of the land, Charles hasn’t decamped completely and he’ll still be seen from time to time around the acreage. Farming is like that.
And for Greg, it’s more than just a job. This is a way of life with early starts, late finishes, and often no off-switch. It’s the furtherest you could get from a 9-5 office job – but it suits him. The depths of winter are a bit quieter, although that’s when Greg does all the planning for the crops, and then planting begins again in February.
I meet Greg for a tour of the operation on a spectacularly sunny day, but even on a less glorious day you couldn’t fail to be impressed by this extensive market garden – which supplies their on-site farm shop. There are fields, poly tunnels and massive greenhouses planted up with pretty much every salad or vegetable you can imagine: chard, lettuce, asparagus, carrots, beetroot, cabbage – with different types of some. There are four different coloured beetroots and a several types of cabbage. There’s also a plum orchard.
Secretts’ baby salad leaves are popular with restaurants both locally and in London – and the salad operation is a biggie. There are nine varieties grown under glass, and each one is cut by hand and mixed individually to the requirements of the chef who’s ordering. In order to keep up with the demand all year round, they’ve now set up a small holding in Spain.
It’s very different to a massive commercial operation where the entire farm is planted with a single crop. Greg says they simply don’t have the acreage to compete with the massive commercial operations, and so instead of spending millions on commercial harvesters, all of these crops are picked by hand.
Which brings us neatly to Secretts’ popular pick-your-own operation. The 2019 pick-your-own season opened in May and currently on the PYO menu there’s chard, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and lettuce.
The strawberry PYO is particularly popular – as you’d expect – especially with families and kids. And with more than 60,000 strawberry plants in place each with a staggered planting time, the season is long going all the way through to the end of August. The asparagus is popular among foodies who know that to get the best flavours asparagus should be harvested and eaten quickly. They come, they pick, they take it home and cook it up.
Soon there will be a café opening at the PYO hub, offering refreshments and light lunches of salads and quiches plus cakes. There’s already a full commercial kitchen in place, which is currently where the food sold in the farm shop deli is prepared.
At Halloween, the pumpkin PYO is something else and each year in October there’s a Pumpkin Week celebration. Last year more 17,000 people came to the farm to chose their own pumpkin and to take part in the children’s activities including tractor rides – and to nosh on all the pumpkin-inspired goodies. Pumpkin pie anyone?
Pumpkin week is also when the sausages from farm’s own small herd of pigs are served. These happy little free-range piggies are fed on the farm’s waste vegetables – it’s true farm to fork provenance here.
All the crops that are grown on the farm are can be bought in the farm’s award-winning farm shop, alongside locally made artisan products, an extensive cheese counter that stocks more than 300 cheeses, and an olive bar. There’s also an award winning delicatessen selling handmade pies, charcuterie and home-cooked hams, plus a range of artisan beers and ales. This truly is a foodie’s paradise, if ever I saw one.
Secretts, Hurst Farm, Chapel Lane, Milford, GU8 5HU