On the job

Globally unique James Farm's circular farm to fork strategy

James Farm is a unique farm business. Rearing pigs, chickens, cows and with a small abattoir, a dairy processing facility, vegetable garden and a farm shop, every link in the chain is represented. Thanks to a collaboration with an exclusive hotel chain, the sustainable and animal friendly products easily find their way from farm to fork. 'To be involved in the complete process from farm to consumer is an enriching experience', says entrepreneur and farmer Torben Carstensen.

Torben Carstensen almost became a dairy farmer responsible for 200 to 300 dairy cows. Plans were already in place to take over the running of his parents' dairy farm with 120 cows in the German village of Hörup. The intention was to build a completely new barn and to considerably expand the herd. A plan similar to many conceived by young dairy farmers and their parents around this time - 2015 - was developed and seemed ready to be realised. Intensification and specialisation were the solutions to managing the sector’s tightening margins. The 180 hectares of ground - including 100 hectares of grassland - at the Carstensen farm provided sufficient opportunity. The future seemed secured.

Partnership with hotel chain
This plan never actually came to fruition, and Torben ended up taking things in a bold new direction. A close neighbour came by to visite him. This entrepreneur and owner of several exclusive hotels had a dream. He wanted to have control of the food supply chain to his hotel kitchens. To use sustainable and local produce with an emphasis on a highly distinctive quality. Stephan Johannsen was looking for a farmer and farm to help turn his dream into reality. Whilst the initial plan might have been considered too radical, it was discussed and developed further during a follow up meeting a few months later. 'Stephan was very serious', says Torben. ‘He wanted to continue with his plan and asked if, I wanted to join him.' The young farmer was immediately drawn to the project. 'Milking a large herd of cows is not for me', he says with determination.

Complete new construction
The ambitious duo made plans. It had to be self-sufficient, innovative, sustainable and of the highest quality. The food needed to be distinctively tasty and regionally produced. A visit to the farm needed to be an unforgettable experience. The plan was to convert one barn for the cows and another for the pigs. 'But this lead to too many compromises. Eventually we came to the conclusion that all existing buildings needed to be demolished and we constructed a completely new James Farm', explains Torben . 'I’m a third generation farmer, but we took things in a wholly different direction. Once the buildings had been demolished and the cows were taken away, there was no way back.' That was a really significant moment.
Construction took place during the coronavirus-pandemic and lasted for more than a year. It wasn’t easy, but the final outcome has produced something globally, very unique. In late 2021 they opened their doors to the public for the first time. A beautiful new building complex, stylishly designed and firmly focused on animal welfare, with lots of space for the animals and the freedom to roam outdoors. The farm management system easily satisfies the requirements of organic certification. 'We work organically, for example without using artificial fertilisers, but we don’t have a certificate', says Torben. 'We are honest and open, a certificate is very bureaucratic, even for the butcher.'

Precious milk
The 20 MRIJ cows - dual purpose and a durable breed- live in a straw filled barn where animal welfare easily merits three stars. In front of the feed gate lies hay harvested from their own, surrounding fields. 'No silage or maize, hay ensures higher quality milk and also gives a distinctive cheese taste', says Torben. The cows are given concentrates in the form of self-grown protein products made from arable crops like lupins, peas and barley. The ‘rich’ milk consists of 4.8% fat and 3.6% protein; breeding is focused on A2A2-béta casein. 'Which means people with a lactose intolerance can also drink our milk', explains Torben.

User friendly and innovative milk solution
The German company Thomsen Tarp were involved in the design - mainly customisation - of the barns and the milking parlour. 'The milking process is possible with any machine', explains Torben. 'But we were looking for a user friendly and innovative milking solution of benefit to the cow, milker and milk quality. Combined with the high level of service offered, we came into contact with Thomsen Tarp, who've delivered the complete package.' This includes the SAC 2x4 herringbone milking parlour and a 'mobile' tank that, when full of fresh milk, is taken on a daily basis to the milk processing facility. Once there, butter, cheese, milk and other dairy produce are made. 'We milk the right number of cows to suit how much milk we can process and supply in the form of dairy produce', is how Torben explains the conditions for production. It is possible to expand the milking parlour to the larger 2x6 model, but the herd's current average daily milk yield of 16 litres is sufficient to supply the hotels and for sale in the farm shop. This caters for 20 % of the revenue, says Owe Brodersen.

Shop is the farm experience
Owe is, alongside Stephan and Torben, the third partner in the project and is responsible for marketing and a fluency in decision making between Torben’s farm and Stephan's hotel chain. Brodersen continues: 'The shop is part of the farm experience. There is a generation of people completely unaware of where their food is sourced as everything is readily available to buy in the supermarket', he explains. ‘They have the opportunity here to see how their food is produced and what this entails. That’s why we offer guided tours of the farm.'
The name James Farm was conceived collectively by all three partners. 'James is a name suitable for an accommodating butler. This is what our business wants to be, accommodating to our guests on the farm and in the hotels, closely followed by a focus on regionality, value and innovation.'

Meat with a focus on flavour
Next to the dairy processing facility is a small abattoir where the pigs - who have the freedom to roam inside and out - and beef products (Angus x Wagyu) are processed. This ensures that the chef in the hotels can serve cuisine with an interesting back-story. 'Beef is hung up to age for five weeks before it goes on sale, which intensifies the flavour', says Torben, explaining the other working method that applies to every component of their management approach. ‘Ecology, animal welfare and quality are our guiding principles’, Owe states as their motto, while also providing an example. The meat intended for consumption in the restaurants is regionally produced, so it travels a shorter distance and has a lower carbon footprint. ‘By following a sustainable model, we put value on every part of the animal.' For example, pig ears are smoked and resold as dog treats. 'We can put everything to good use and they are really popular.'

Enriching farming experience
Torben oversees the work at James Farm, where eight employees are responsible for the animals and product processing and twelve (part time) employees share responsibility for the running of the farm shop. 'Our work is really varied and a lot more interesting than simply milking hundreds of cows.' His father and mother still work on the farm. 'This is a great adventure, I’m so grateful that we made the decision to take the business this way', explains the modest farmer’s son. 'It's brilliant when the opportunity arises to bring such a fantastic idea to fruition. As a farmer, it's such a rewarding experience to see how our work and produce reaches the consumer and the pleasure this gives them.'