Farming feature: Suffolk shepherd’s hut holiday venture aims to scotch myths about farming
- Credit: Archant
An agronomist whose lifelong ambition has been to own his own farm business is set to realise his dream with the opening of a new agri-tourism venture.
In his spare time, Matt Reed, who works for HL Hutchinson at Wisbech, painstakingly designed and built eight holiday shepherd huts with help from his father and his friend. They are set in a newly-planted wildflower meadow at Honeysuckle Farm, near the family home at Bedfield, near Debenham, and are aimed at bringing holidaymakers closer to nature - and to farming.
Wife Anna, who works in environmental education, has also been heavily involved in the project and in designing the interiors.
They are gearing up for a soft opening in late July, when the huts, which are fitted out with kitchens, bathrooms and four fixed bed spaces, will begin taking the first paying guests.
By next year, Matt and Anna hope to move towards the next stage of development by offering up farm and rural crafts-related classes, from animal husbandry and cider making to basket weaving or beekeeping.
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Their business, Honeysuckle Holidays, has been three years in the making, from purchasing a six acre plot of land - “a really, really rough horse meadow” - to building underdrains, producing productive grass, removing overhead power lines, installing infrastructure including water, electricity and sewage treatment, getting planning permission for the huts, and building them by hand - a huge undertaking.
Each aspect has been carefully considered, from home comforts, with underfloor heating and insulation in the huts, a steel chassis, complete with wheels, underneath provided by local firm AW Smith, to timber cladding for the walls and a tin roof.
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Already, a goat herd reared for meat has taken up residence in a specially-designed enclosure, and they will be joined nearby by other farming-related enterprises such as chickens, fattening calves and beehives.
Produce from the small farm along with others from nearby businesses will be sold in the on-site shop, and they hope to plant an orchard, and, council planners permitting, build an education centre to house the classes for their ‘rural experience’ packages, which are already attracting interest.
In order to enhance the peaceful rural setting, vehicles will be parked up in a separate hidden area close to the lodges, to prevent them blighting the scenic views.
The area is surrounded by footpaths and walks, making it the perfect base for Suffolk walking holidays.
“The rise of education-tourism and activity holidays, has provided a unique opportunity for us to create an environment where people can learn and experience new things whilst on holiday, as well as showcase British agriculture and rural crafts to their best,” explained Matt, who has spent the last 10 years as an agronomist and works in north and mid Suffolk.
“My background in the agricultural industry and meeting non-agricultural people highlighted the huge gap in knowledge as well as misunderstandings about the industry. The range of rural and cultural experiences we have planned for Honeysuckle Holidays will, we hope, go some way towards addressing this as well as providing a relaxing break in our beautiful county.”
Matt, who started out working on a farm and then managing one for a while before going into agronomy, said farming had been a lifelong dream as while growing up in Shottisham, near Woodbridge.
“The last farmer in my family was my great grandfather. That’s all I have ever wanted to do, is be in farming,” he said.
He and Anna felt there was a gap in the market for a family-based holiday which combined aspects of environment and farming.
“My wife being in environmental education, we could see the messages weren’t really getting out there - there were a lot of pre-conceived ideas out there which were wrong.”
The couple is now hard at work putting the finishing touches to the huts ready for opening. Father-of-three Matt said he was “immensely proud” of the project and what they have achieved. “It’s still only six acres - we can’t claim it as a big enterprise,” he said. “But if you just put your mind to it, you can achieve things. Even 10 years ago when I first started this job, I never thought I would be able to buy land.”