Creative entrepreneur Nigel Akehurst on how he never thought he’d go back to a farm but ended up finding his dream on one…
Nigel Akehurst set up Indie Farmer magazine from his flat in Dalston in March 2014 to tell the amazing stories of independent farmers.
But after a research road trip around the UK, he was inspired to take the leap and become a farmer himself. Here, he shares what farm life is really like - and why moving out of London was the best thing he’s ever done…
How did the idea for Indie Farmer come about?
I was working in marketing for a farming and food assurance brand that piqued my interest in where food comes from. I was brought up on a farm, and that reignited something.
What really interested me were the smaller independent farms who were creating a product and marketing it directly.
I wanted to set up a blog to tell those stories and educate people about where food comes from and make it more relevant to a younger generation.
At first, I started visiting cool projects in London such as Post Code Urban Beekeepers, who had hives in people’s gardens, and the skip garden in King’s Cross.
From having the idea to going live with the website took about a year.
So, what made you go on your research road trip?
I just started to get itchy feet that summer. I wanted to explore further afield, so I decided to do a UK road trip on Veronica, my Vespa 125 scooter, visiting interesting farming projects and blogging about them.
I spent six weeks travelling around Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, along the coast to Dartmoor then to Somerset, Wales, Herefordshire and finally up to Yorkshire.
In total, I did 2,000 miles and met 40 different producers. It was an epic trip.
Was that road trip the turning point?
Yeah, it was. After that, I started questioning my life and then I just went for it.
I moved back home to Sussex, helped my parents out on their farm, learnt from them and tried out some new stuff I’d seen during my trip.
Was it a good decision?
It’s been three-and-a-half years since the trip and I’ve learnt so much. I’ve been running Indie Farmer as a side project and piloting some great new things at the farm.
Since moving back home, we’ve got a herd of Sussex cattle which are a native breed of red cows really suited to the local environment.
In fact, we’ve already started selling the meat to local people which is going really well. It makes me feel really positive about what I’m doing.
Sounds like a major lifestyle change…
I think my whole life has changed. Before, I was living in Dalston in Hackney which was great: lots of bars and restaurants and friends. Now I’m hanging out with lots of cows and sheep!
What did your mates think?
A lot of them were quite surprised. They knew I was raised on a farm, but they definitely didn’t see me as a farmer.
They thought it was quite a big change, but now they come down to visit and they love it. They can totally see why I moved. There are real benefits to having a lifestyle where you’re outside and helping to produce something tangible.
Has your style changed since you’ve become a farmer?
Living in East London, a lot of people dressed like farmers anyway, so I didn’t really have to change my style!
I had to wear a suit when I first moved to London, but I hated it.
My style has always been pretty casual but fairly well-fitting.
In London, I always wore casual clothes: skinny jeans, shorts, T-shirts, shirts, boots and so on. Now I wear the same, just with more practical boots. If I’m going to do a really mucky job, I’ll put on overalls and wellies.
Sustainable fashion is really important to me (obviously, in this line of work), and I always try to buy organic cotton.
I think it’s worth investing in clothes and especially from ethically-sourced brands. There are places you wouldn’t think are flying the flag - I recently realised House of Fraser stocks some of my favourites like Howick and PS by Paul Smith.
So, do you miss city life?
I do, but then I love the space and freedom of the farm. The rhythm of life is slower and you can think a bit more clearly out here.
My social life has definitely taken a back seat, but my girlfriend is an urban farmer based in East London. Hopefully, she’s going to move here at the end of the year.
There’s also a great indie farmer scene building up here with other young farmers taking over their parent’s farms and doing stuff a bit differently. There’s a real sense of community.
Would you recommend the farmer lifestyle?
As a kid growing up, I was discouraged from going into it.
People said there was no money in farming and that it was dirty, smelly work. I’m not trying to glamorise it (there are some very unglamorous aspects), but it is rewarding.
OK, so you might not make as much money as a lawyer or an accountant, but the variety of the work is great. There’s a lot to be said for growing or building something from scratch.
I’d definitely encourage people to move to a farm. It’s a great way of life and more people could benefit from it. Plus, we need more young farmers to come into the industry.
Or if that feels too scary, you can just start with little things such as growing herbs in a window box or some veg in your garden.
Do it at your own level and how it suits you best.
Nigel is part of ShortList and House of Fraser’s Style Collective - an exclusive email with monthly discounts at House of Fraser. Find out more and sign up to the Style Collective here.
Shop Nigel’s edit below:
Nigel Akehurst’s style edit
“I prefer to pay a bit more and for my clothes so they last a long time instead of getting something every season and then chucking it out.
I’m not into making more waste than necessary, so below are my top picks for quality basics that will really last you.”