Have you ever been so enthusiastic about something that you have no idea how to go about telling people about it justly?
Last week, I went along to the Mornflake factory in Crewe for their #MornflakeSeedToBowlEvent.
Since then, I have been worrying about how to write up my experiences because there is a lot riding on it. I want to get you, my readers, as excited about British food in general and Mornflake oats in particular.
There were some top food bloggers in attendance and, after an introduction to the Mornflake family and a little explanation to the itinerary for the day, we were herded onto a mini bus and whisked into the country to one of the Mornflake oat farms.
It was right up my street. I love seeing other farms and I was really excited to meet Hartley and his wife Liz who run just one of Mornflakes’ oat farms in the UK
It was a beautiful place and I had no idea up until this point how pretty oat crops are. They wouldn’t look out of place in a jug on my window sill.
A track had been made in the oat field and, a short walk away, I could see a marquee. All ready for us to have breakfast.
It took my breath away. It was so romantic but the oats stole the show and Liz, the farmer’s wife, along with the team from Mornflake had really pulled out all the stops.
From porridge to granola as well as a lovely oat Irish soda bread, we really were spoiled.
As breakfast finished, Hartley got up and told us the story of the farm, how:
- they had once had cows
- they diversified into crops
- they run their own green waste facility, taking the contents of household green bins and spreading it on their land as a fertiliser
- spoke about a farmer’s greatest adversary-the weather
- told us how long it takes to go from sowing to harvesting (nine months if you’re interested).
- He then invited questions.
I felt a real affinity to Hartley but even more so to his wife Liz. We are both farmer’s wives helping our husbands in what is one of the most unpredictable jobs on earth.
I asked if Hartley was as obsessed about the weather as Hubster-he is. It is obviously a farming trait and some of the other bloggers asked about other farming issues.
It was lovely.
A word was banded about quite a bit as we were in the oat field.
Traceability, if you like. The fact that Mornflake can pinpoint where every sack of oats arriving at their factory come from.
Hartley and his family said they considered themselves lucky to be contracted to Mornflake as they are a sure customer for all of the blood, sweat and tears (don’t worry, not literally) which goes into the farming of oats.
After some great photo opportunities and chance for more chatting and informal questions (tips on being a good farmer’s wife, that kind of thing), it was back on the coach to the Mornflake HQ where John Lea, almost oat-royalty and Managing Director at Mornflake was waiting to tell is all about his family business.
Family business. You would imagine maybe his father or grandfather before him and his own children after him, wouldn’t you?
Well not the Lea family. They have been milling oats in south Cheshire since 1675 and they are currently on their 15th generation of Leas to be producing food. I told you they were oat royalty.
You see, weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker that said sheep herding was the world’s second oldest profession-it was a little joke saying that prostitution was the first. Now I don’t wish to get into any arguments about what came first-the chicken or the egg but milling oats is definitely up there with the shepherds and erm, ladies of the night.
King Mr Lea told us, whole preserved ovens were found in Pompeii holding loaves of bread that wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of supermarkets today.
Oats are historically an important food for horses and as a result they played a pivotal role in medieval Britain and were the largest crop in the country up until the Second World War. Indeed Mr Lea told us that his own father was exempt from signing up during the War because his oat expertise was so important at home.
While the use of horses on farms and as a mode of transport has been replaced by the car (and tractor) oats now make up a small fraction of the British farming landscape. Having said that the UK grows some of the finest oats in the world and, having tasted the fruits of their labour myself, we mill the best oats too.
Breakfasts like porridge oats went out of fashion for a while when sugar-coated nasties flew in from America. It seems the beauty of the oat and the versatility are back in fashion both for their health benefits, price and taste.
There are many, many types of oats and grains made from the humble oat (not to mention oat straw which we have used on our farm but is a whole different story).
The most well known varieties are the jumbo oat and oatmeal. Jumbo oats make your ‘well known typical porridge’ while oatmeal is much finer. I used oatmeal last year to make these oaty biscuits and, once Baby G is six months old, I will be giving him oatmeal as it is so smooth-perfect for babies.
After Mr Lea’s speech, he handed over to his son who again was so enthusiastic about their brand and their products.
I learnt some shocking things about consumerism which I am going to save for another time but the one thing, apart from enthusiasm that came flooding from the pores of these men was family.
At heart, Mornflake is and always has been a family-run company. Many of the employees have worked there for years and different generations of the same family have joined in to make this astounding range of breakfast cereals.
We then donned rather attractive white coats, work boots and hair nets for a once-in-a-life-time tour of the mill.
I can’t tell you too much about it as Mornflake might have to kill me because competition is fierce in the breakfast cereal aisles and I understand how privileged we were to be shown around the mill. It was so interesting and we even got to see the ‘ideas hub’ where all new products are dreamt up. The smell coming from some parts of the factory were delicious and I even remarked on how clean the place was.
Considering our farm, with straw flying around everywhere and it being retrieved daily from my washing machine filter, I didn’t see even one oat husk on the floor during my whole tour.
On our return, we were given a lovely goody bag of Mornflake goodies.
I had such a lovely day.
The enthusiasm of the whole Mornflake family just shone through and it made me feel really hopefully about the future of both farming and British food.
We have such a history of amazing food production in this country and feel so blessed to have had a glimpse into the world of just one of the companies.
The Lea family and everyone at Mornflake made us feel so welcome and I consider myself part of the Mornflake family now. I will not consider any other brand of oats.
Hubster and Baby G have also been adopted into the oat-loving-club, it’s just the toughest family member to convince next. I am considering sticking a Disney Princess sticker onto the Mornflake box. That should do it.
You can find more out about the Mornflake family on their website here.
I am currently planning some more oaty goodness on my blog so please watch this space.