Farmer who branched out into Duchess rapeseed oil business scoops coveted Essex Agricultural Society President’s Award.

Oscar Harding, of Duchess Farms and Duchess Oil, Sawbridgeworth.

Oscar Harding, of Duchess Farms and Duchess Oil, Sawbridgeworth. - Credit: Duchess Farms

A sixth-generation farmer who branched out into making cold-pressed rapeseed oil from the crop he grows has scooped this year’s Essex Agricultural Society (EAS) President’s Award.

Essex Agricultural Society President's Award contestant Salt of the Earth's Hilary Lester and boyfri

Essex Agricultural Society President's Award contestant Salt of the Earth's Hilary Lester and boyfriend Sam Body. - Credit: Salt of the Earth

Oscar Harding, who farms at Duchess Farms, Sawbridgeworth, on the border of Hertfordshire and Essex, said he was delighted.

“Gaining recognition for the work we have been doing to take Duchess Farms and Duchess Oil to the next level has furthered my belief that an entrepreneurial approach to farming is the way forward,” he said.

Duchess Oil, launched in 2012 and grown, harvested, pressed and bottled at the family farm, is supplied to restaurants and shops throughout Hertfordshire and London.

The runners-up were Robert and George Mann of 3 Diamond Fridge Hire of Little Totham, Maldon, Hilary Lester of Salt of the Earth Food, Bishop’s Stortford, and Nick Halls of Real Oak Furniture, Jackletts Farm, Danbury.

Nick Halls of Rustic Oak Furniture, Jackletts Farm, Danbury.

Nick Halls of Rustic Oak Furniture, Jackletts Farm, Danbury. - Credit: Rustic Oak Furniture


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EAS president Catherine Hutley, who judged the finalists along with Belinda Young and Edward Worthy, said Oscar had a “wonderful product which he is passionate about” as she praised the energy, drive and forward thinking of all the finalists.

“The real clincher for the us (the judges) was that he had taken his business to another level since 2016 when he had been on the shortlist. He is a real people person and is good at making contacts in the fine dining and chef world.”

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Hilary, an enterprising cook, runs a successful monthly supper club from her farmhouse and has converted a rice trailer into a mobile bar, which she takes to various events.

Nick has been making furniture for about 17 years, focusing on the higher-end bespoke market, while George and Robert, who set up their refrigerated trailer business in 2008, and have also identified a gap in the market for hiring out teepees.

Catharine said all the candidates acknowledged their good fortune in having space to start up their businesses. “How lucky we are in the farming community to have such energy, drive and forward thinking. We, and they, will need all of that in the next few years, without doubt we are in for a turbulent ride and this type of vision is to be hugely applauded,” she said.

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