We interview Robert Hart of Hart’s Traditional Turkeys, our only Golden Turkey accredited farmer in Gloucestershire. Robert has plenty to tell us, some great news, and is clearly passionate about their very family-orientated traditional Christmas turkey business…
How long has your family been in farming and what made you join our association to become a Golden Turkey Farmer?
I’ve been in farming for 37 years and we joined the TFTA (the Golden Turkey Farmers) in 1993.
In my early years of turkey farming, Paul Kelly gave me invaluable help and advice and it was he who invited me to join the TFTA, during one of our annual catch up meetings.
Supporting those starting in the industry is something that is also really important to me and in the same way as Paul helped me, I have tried to help newcomers to the industry.
Do you produce anything else on your farm besides Golden Turkeys for Christmas?
On our smallholding we used to rear sheep and keep laying hens as well as turkeys. Now we farm no other livestock so can devote all of our energies to our turkeys. However, we are spoilt for choice in Gloucestershire when it comes to artisan food producers and we stock locally produced beef, pork, cheeses, butter, cream and confectionaries, together with pickles and chutneys, in our farm shop at Christmas.
Who else do you normally sell Golden Turkeys to?
We pride ourselves in providing an unrivalled customer experience. Consequently, we made the decision a few years ago to focus solely on farm gate sales, enabling us to maintain a direct link with those enjoying our exceptional products.
What do you do in the first 6 months of the year, when not producing turkeys?
My career away from turkeys was in Local Government. Having retired, I seem to be busier now than when I was working full time AND raising Traditional Farm Fresh Turkeys! When not removing paint from our grandson’s hands and face after he has been helping with painting the buildings, the first 6 months of the year are focussed on getting ready for the next 6 months.
Have you won any AWARDS for farming, food or your business?
We have always been driven and inspired by the generous feedback we receive from our customers and, encouraged by them, entered the 2020 Great Taste Awards.
We are delighted to say that we were successful in gaining a star Great Taste Award for our whole traditional Turkey, especially as it’s such a competitive international food and drink Awards event!
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
After all these years, it is great to know we must be doing something right. Many of our customers have been with us for over thirty years. Each year we attract new customers who have heard about us through their friends and family – there is no better advertisement than word of mouth…although I do believe in marketing parlance it is known as ‘Third Party Verification’! Reading and listening to the feedback we receive makes all the hard work more than worthwhile. Additionally, we have a loyal and experienced team of helpers at Christmas, all working together with a commitment to the welfare, careful handling and presentation of the turkeys, which is really special.
In 2019 we were delighted to welcome students from The Royal Agricultural University to learn more about SMEs in the food sector as part of their studies.
What or who, inspires you?
Doing something to the best of my ability to produce a premium product, seeing the smiling faces of customers when they collect their turkeys and receiving their feedback. Our reputation is built upon not being complacent and attention to detail which is upheld by each member of the team.
What was your first job?
Whilst still at school, in any spare time I had, I helped in a shop dealing with motocross machines – Bliss!
What would you be doing, if you weren’t a farmer?
Interesting question! Unlike most of the TFTA members, I have not been involved in agriculture all my life. My career was in Local Government where I had a fulfilling and demanding job and I balanced this with turkey farming for a complete antidote from the office. Having retired from Local Government, I have a new fulltime career in turkey farming.
Tea or Coffee?
Neither – I am strictly a Vino Blanco person!
Favourite Book or Film?
I’m not one for films but I do enjoy reading. I’m extremely passionate about natural and social history – particularly with an agricultural or rural angle. There is a local author from Gloucestershire called Humphrey Phelps who has written some fantastic books. His ability to commit the Gloucestershire dialect to the page is brilliant.
This has to be a trick question, right? Hart’s Traditional Turkeys of course!
Best way to relax after a stressful day?
I take our Jack Russell, Meg, for a walk along the banks of the River Severn or settle down in a favourite armchair with a good book. If neither of these is available – I can always count turkeys instead of sheep
Which social media platforms do you use for your Christmas Turkey business?
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We get most traction on Facebook and Instagram.
How has the Corona Virus Pandemic affected your farm life and business?
Being a seasonal business and only selling via the farm gate, there has been no immediate impact other than revising bio security measures. Before the busy period we have had time to research Covid 19 requirements for staff, shop and insuring sanitising and disinfectant products are effective against Corona Virus.
We already offer our customers locally produced free range or organic meats and other Christmas Tastes of Gloucestershire to support the local economy.
Are you planning to make changes in the way you promote your Christmas turkeys?
We will certainly miss the opportunity to promote our Christmas turkeys at local food fairs. However, we plan to increase our use of social media and participate in any promotions from the TFTA and NFU. Additionally, we will send a newsletter to all on our customer list. Our website is important and can provide useful information in how successful it is in contacting potential customers.
Are you planning to offer a nationwide delivery service?
We have been delivering turkeys nationwide for a number of years. It all started when a customer moved with their job and was unable to collect their turkey from our farm shop. Via courier, we now send turkeys, crowns and other goodies from our shop the length and breadth of the UK.
This year we plan to expand our local delivery service.
Do you foresee any particular staffing problems this year, for the processing of the turkeys for Christmas?
All of the Hart’s Traditional Turkey team live locally and have worked with us for many years. They have already committed some of their annual holidays to help at Christmas – no change here. We have discussed and agreed with them how we can achieve compliance with Covid 19 requirements, including training.
Yes, producing Farm fresh Golden Turkeys takes a lot longer and so skilled staffing is essential. As with other areas on the farm, coronavirus has caused many problems with finding staff.
Further Details: https://hartstraditionalturkeys.co.uk/our-story/
Facebook: @Hart’s Traditional Turkeys