The high life

Grazing animals on the roof of your café is a sure way to attract attention, but is it a sign of good food? Rosie McGlade visits Cross Lanes Organic Farm to find out.

The sheep on the roof have caused such a stir with passing motorists on the A66 that a lorry driver once phoned the Chris Evans show, which resulted in a live interview on Radio 2.

Another customer (nothing to do with the sheep this time) put them forward for the Best Local Food Retailer category in the Radio4 Food & Farming Awards and they came third out of 900. The website lists lots of other awards, some linked to the café, deli and butcher’s counter.

Cross Lanes Organic Farm near Barnard Castle in Teesdale has only been going a year or so, which makes it all doubly impressive. It’s quite a thing to look at, with its bold, eco-friendly architectural lines and high design steel structure. Unfortunately, the last time we visited, the sheep had been taken down from the roof, out of respect for the grass in winter, though we have seen them there previously; three of them, black with big horns. They’re called Roofus, Ewegene and Barney.

Elsewhere, there are swathes of solar panels, straw bale walls, recycled bricks, air source heat pumps, and an odd-looking outhouse with a massive thatched roof which turns out to be a composting toilet.

Not one chemical has contaminated anything you put in your mouth, and any once-breathing animal involved on your plate enjoyed a care-free, busy little life before being butchered in a no doubt very humane way.

There are geese and slides for the kids, and it’s set in beautiful country. The recycled greenhouse (formerly Butterfly World in Tow Law, believe it or not) will this year produce salads and herbs for the kitchens, and you will also be able to buy plants.

It’s a destination café, in short. Which usually means expensive, and it’s true that nothing organic ever comes cheap. I’ll never forget our local farmer’s first organic wheat crop, which got so choked up by weeds and poppies there was only a small harvestable circle left in the middle come combine time. He got better over the years, but it did make me appreciate why all those fertilizers and weedkillers are so widely used, and why some cost has to be shared by the customer.

Actually, the café side of things at Cross Lanes is not that pricey, not when you consider how very tasty the food is. The 6oz steak and onion burger with chips and salad is £9.95, for example, and delicious. You can choose from other specials or a selection of thin crust, home-made wood-fired oven pizzas for around the same price, or sandwiches or soup for a fiver, give or take.

Deborah Hare is the manager. “The main aim has been to support our local producers through the cafe and the shop, and to offer visitors an example of how a business can be run in an environmentally sustainable way, as far as possible,” she explains.

The A66 between Scotch Corner and the Barnard Castle turn-off is no stranger to farm shops, with two others turning over a roaring trade at weekends for years. Drive past on a Sunday and the huge car parks are heaving. Farm shops and cafés are clearly a big thing in these parts, but isn’t there a danger people will tire of them?

“Because of the nature of the build, the plans for Cross Lanes were drawn up years ago, possibly before the other farm shops actually opened. But you do have to offer something fresh and different I think,” Deborah says.
Cross Lanes Organic Farm tel 01833 630 619,


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