James and Barbara Cossins: A passion for Dorset food and farming
PUBLISHED: 14:15 24 March 2016 | UPDATED: 14:20 24 March 2016
Fanny Charles meets James and Barbara Cossins whose passion for local food and farming has won them numerous awards including Dorset Magazine's Farming Hero. Photographs: Katharine Davies
Running a mixed farm of more than 2,000 acres without a manager or agent is a very big job. Running a successful and award-winning pub which is in constant demand for weddings and functions would be more than enough work for one energetic woman.
Add to this mix: an on-site farm butchery, a biennial Open Farm Sunday and active involvement in the Dorset branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU), and you can see that you need not only boundless energy but a deep commitment to farming and the local community.
This is what husband and wife, James and Barbara Cossins do, each and every week. The essential element is a remarkable partnership that enables them to support each other in keeping their different enterprises running successfully.
James Cossins met Barbara White at Blandford Young Farmers Club. James’s family farmed in the Tarrant valley. His late father, John Cossins, was at 21 the youngest ever county chairman of the NFU. His mother Mary was the hugely respected chairman of North Dorset District Council for many years. James is the fifth generation at the Tarrant Rawston farm, which has been worked by the Cossins since the 1870s.
Barbara’s family farmed at Pentridge near Cranborne and their marriage 29 years ago brought together two long-established Cranborne Chase farming families.
The couple now run one of Dorset’s best-known and most successful farms at Tarrant Rawston. Rawston Farm, with its associated businesses, is a real family enterprise. Daughter, Georgina works with James and her brother Henry, who works for Pearce Seeds near Sherborne, also runs a shoot at the farm.
James, who takes on the chairmanship of the Dorset branch of the NFU later this year, manages the mixed dairy, beef and arable enterprise, extending to 2,200 acres including owned and rented land and some conservation land at nearby Blandford Camp.
Barbara, who trained at Kingston Maurward Agricultural College, runs the popular Langton Arms at nearby Tarrant Monkton as well as managing the family’s award-winning Langton Butchery.
The success of the three related businesses was recently recognised when James was named the 2015 Farming Hero in the Dorset Magazine’s Food, Drink and Farming Awards, while other prestigious regional awards during the year celebrated Barbara’s achievements at the Langton Arms and the quality of the meat from the butchery.
Rawston Farm was a long-established dairy and arable farm when the Cossins family moved into beef a few years back, partly as a response to the ongoing TB crisis, says James. They now have around 150 beef cattle, which are kept for two years, and 320 milking cows.
“We produce some of the best beef in the country. All our animals are grass-fed and home-bred,” says Barbara, with great pride. With such high quality meat coming direct from their own farm setting up the butchery three years ago was a logical development that allows them to provide fully traceable meat for their pub, the Langton Arms. “I was fed up buying beef that wasn’t good enough for our customers,” says Barbara, who has learned about the whole process of butchery, and knows what it takes to produce the finest tasting beef.
As there was nowhere suitable for the butchery at the 17th-century pub, they decided to use a redundant dairy building at the farm.
James supplies about 50 beef cattle each year to the butchery. The animals are slaughtered at Clark’s at Sixpenny Handley, just a few miles across the Chase, and are properly hung and dry-aged. The carcases lose some weight with this process, says Barbara, but dry-aging gives the meat great flavour.
“The butchery has brought the farm and the pub together – it really is the whole story, from field to plate,” she enthuses. “We are taking meat back to the old-fashioned ways.”
The results of this successful family endeavour speak for themselves, not only in numerous awards, but in satisfied customers who come back again and again, at the Langton Arms and at shops that stock their produce including Marlene Belbin’s nearby Tarrant Gunville Farm Shop, Dike & Sons in Stalbridge, Chettle Stores, Pimperne Village Shop, Damory Garage and Sturminster Marshall Village Shop.
The butchery also deals with lamb from local farms, pork from Somerset, turkeys from Blandford, chickens from Winterborne Stickland and local venison. Pheasants, when in season, are provided directly from Rawston Farm shoots.
James and Barbara have opened Rawston Farm twice to the public during Open Farm Sunday - in 2013 and again last year. This annual invitation to the general public to visit working farms across county and country shows people where their food comes from. Taking part was very much Georgina’s idea and last year they welcomed 1,600 people keen to watch the cows being milked, buy local food, learn about basket-making and bee-keeping and tour the family’s farm on tractor and trailer rides.
“Henry brought his incubator along and visitors were lucky enough to see chicks being hatched,” says Barbara. “It was a really busy day for everyone and involved all the family and the men who work here.”
Attached to the farm is Tarrant Rawston’s little church of St Mary, which became redundant in the 1970s and is now owned by the Cossins family. There are still occasional events at the Grade II listed church, parts of which date back to the 14th century, including the annual Historic Churches Bike Ride and carols at Christmas.
Barbara was a full-time mother and farmer’s wife until 1992 “when the Langton Arms came along.” Since then she has worked hard to build up the reputation of the business, with its picturesque location near the Tarrant ford.
All was going well until the thatched pub was badly damaged by fire in 2004. It took eight months to restore the building, and the years that followed were difficult, with the recession and the smoking ban having their impact.
“This has been probably the toughest ten years in the business,” admits Barbara. Fortunately wedding receptions and functions have helped to get the business back on its feet. “The Langton Arms caters for around 28 weddings a year; and we’ve recently been licensed for wedding ceremonies,” she adds.
“The butchery has also helped and my farming background is one of the reasons we have kept going. We started the butchery at the time of the horsemeat scandal. It made people stop and think about what they were eating and its traceability, which made them keener to support local food producers,” says Barbara.
Looking ahead, James, who becomes NFU county chairman in November, says he would like to see a better price for milk, a staple food which is treated as a loss leader by supermarkets. To this end he wants to encourage farmers to work together to form an effective political lobby.
“There are a lot of decisions made by politicians and conservationists – people who are not directly involved in farming,” he says. “I want to try to get farming back on its feet. All sectors are down, not just dairy. And we have the Europe debate coming.
“With the issue of bovine TB, I want to see a reduction by whatever means. And Dorset farmers need to join together to be represented on certain issues within the county – such as the algae issue in Poole Harbour.”
Barbara and James are agreed on the importance of educating people, and promoting good food grown by British farmers, for better health and for long-term food security.
Away from the demands of their various enterprises, the couple do find time to relax. For Barbara it is “a bit of retail therapy” in the independent shops in Blandford, Sherborne or Shaftesbury, and spending time at their Turkish holiday home, which is also let to holidaymakers. For James it is an afternoon on the terraces of the Vitality Stadium, where he is a season ticket-holder. watching AFC Bournemouth play.
But, always, the farm, the butchery and the pub come first. “We are both passionate about food and farming,” says Barbara. “It is in our blood. It is what we were brought up to do. I feel very humble about the recognition we have received for our food and the farm.”
Visit the pub and butchers
• 12 of the best Dorset butchers - From hidden gems to award-winners, Sue Quinn seeks out some of the county’s finest meat masters who are passionate about animal welfare, quality and service
• Recipe - cauliflower and chickpea curry - River Cottage Head Chef, Gill Meller, has a delicious vegetable curry that is full of spice and warmth to banish the winter blues