Jimmy’s Farm set to lift TV viewers’ spirits with joys of autumn
PUBLISHED: 11:45 09 October 2020 | UPDATED: 13:43 09 October 2020
Like all hospitality-based businesses, Suffolk’s most widely known farm attraction has faced its own challenges during the coronavirus crisis.
But now Jimmy’s Farm will be shedding the gloom and bringing some outdoor autumn cheer to a UK audience struggling to cope with a second wave of pandemic restrictions on their lives.
From the safety of their living rooms, locked-down viewers will get a chance to delight once again in the glories of an outdoor life, and the goings-on on a small farm at Wherstead, near Ipswich, where TV celebrity Jimmy Doherty set up camp 18 years ago with wife Michaela to raise rare-breed pigs.
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Under the intermittent gaze of the cameras, Jimmy’s humble little farm enterprise has grown up into a full-fledged, multi-faceted business offering visitors a chance to savour a field-to-fork experience of country living.
It’s now a working farm and a wildlife park, with a host of domestic farm animals – and more exotic guests – to feed and care for.
It also has a farm shop, a butchery, clothes, gifts and crafts shops, a restaurant, tea rooms, woods, vegetable and flower gardens, and an events business.
Following on from the “huge” success of Spring at Jimmy’s Farm, programme makers decided to follow up with a four-part series to give families cooped up indoors a chance to see the autumn season unfold week by week.
A small film crew will follow the staff and animals on the 280-acre site in a “fly-on-the-wall” documentary which will cover a gamut of topics, from wildlife to food, farming, gardening and science.
“It’s been good fun. The weather has obviously changed – we have left behind that glorious summer,” said Jimmy of the series so far. The programme had engaged four-year-olds to 85-year-olds in the joys and dramas of life on the farm, he added.
The series promises some revelations and surprises – including the latest species to be welcomed onto the farm. The shape of the new arrivals remains a tightly-wrapped secret, although Jimmy did reveal that they are from north Africa.
“We have been building a massive new enclosure for animals due to arrive from Holland,” he said. “There’s about eight of them and they are very active and I think they’ll be very interesting to the general public.”
One of the other highlights will be the arrival of 9,000 turkeys for the Christmas season – another positive in what’s been a difficult year.
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Jimmy admits that lockdown has been tough for the farm, with 35 full-time staff, animals to feed and no income.
“Our business is quite multi-faceted,” he explains.
Staff were furloughed, and different parts of the business brought back to life as conditions allowed. “We have retained the vast majority of our staff which has been great,” he says.
The farm reopened for business on June 25 - but on a revised footing with entry slots, a one-way system, and a variety of rules around personal protection. The restaurant – which is set to reopen on November 4 following lockdown – remained closed, but its Field Kitchen, Snack Shack and Woodland Bar were brought back into service. Weddings and events inevitably took a knocking, although Jimmy is scheduled to hold a butchery presentation – entitled the Big Beef Night – on November 20.
“We were in a really precarious situation,” admits Jimmy. They couldn’t run weddings or festivals or certain retail outlets “but we still had masses of feed to buy for the animals so it was pretty dicey I would say”, he recalls.
“It has been quite a difficult situation, but now it’s open, now it’s a lot better.”
With some of the species he keeps on his farm in the ‘at risk’ category, he’s conscious of the effects of the pandemic on the zoo industry as a whole – and the difficulties farmers and growers selling into the catering and hospitality trade faced during lockdown. “They were in absolute dire straits,” he says.
On his own farm, with most produce going into his own hospitality and retail ventures, he had to stop production until the worst of the crisis passed.
Many of the effects will be long-lasting, but there are positives to come out of it, he believes.
“I think one of the positive things to come out of this awful situation is one, a sense of community, and two, engaging with wildlife,” he says.
Over the years, Jimmy has appeared in a variety of shows, from the original Jimmy’s Farm to more recent Channel 4 series such as Jimmy & Jamie’s Friday Night Feast with TV chef and friend Jamie Oliver and Food Unwrapped, which looks at how food is made. His latest series will certainly showcase his home county to a wider audience.
“We have had lots of visitors from around the country come here and I think it’s great to bring people into Suffolk. People realise what a fantastic area we live in,” he says.
The first episode of Autumn at Jimmy’s Farm is on Wednesday, October 14, at 8pm on Channel 4.
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