Jessi Stephens

Monmouthshire Fayre produce

 

As Monmouthshire is a rural county, with vast swathes of agricultural land, it’s easy to buy food that hasn’t travelled very far. Whether you’re sourcing vegetables from a farmers’ market or your eggs and cheese from a grocery store, you can find a range of suppliers who will be local to you. The same is true of meat; especially if you’re sourcing it from Monmouthshire Fayre, a business set up by Jessi Stephens and her husband, Chris, to support Monmouthshire farmers:

“I started Monmouthshire Fayre because I wanted to make sure that local people had access to the food around them that was grown in the fields surrounding where they live, and that farmers got a guaranteed fair price.”

The benefit to buying local is that you’re in a better position to trace where your meat has come from and how your food has been treated. Jessi points out that if you’re able to find out where your food has come from and the breed of the animal, then you’re best placed to determine how healthy the animal was and how nourishing your steak or joint is:

“Every animal is different. Every animal has worked their muscles in a different way, depending on what kind of life they’ve had. This is why we tend to go with a grass-fed regenerative approach as a whole because we know this has a positive effect on the animal. Animals that have sat around in a shed will taste different from an animal that has been outside, rooting, foraging, eating. The taste and consistency of the muscles is different.”

Jessi stopped buying supermarket meat for her own household after noticing the amount of water released by the meat on cooking, which she believes is added to bulk up its weight. For her, the real problem is that a lot of the meat reaching supermarket shelves is no longer traceable back to its farm of origin and has spent a significant amount of time stored in a warehouse.

Having been a butcher herself for many years, Jessi is a fount of knowledge when it comes to animal carcasses and what they tell us about the health of the animal. She explains that the fat on a lot of their animals has a yellowish tinge because they’re grass fed.

What is also clear from Jessi is that there is a misperception that buying organic, regenerative, or free-range produce is more expensive: “You might get 500g of mince rather than 750g for the same price, but that 500g will go a lot further than that 750g would. It has better nutrition.”

Jessi and Chris are farmers themselves and dedicated to connecting customers to their food sources. They also collaborate with 9 farms and 25 local businesses. They make information about their suppliers clear on their products, and, likewise, they make a point of sharing information with their farmers about how the customers are enjoying their meat. This is so valuable to farmers who are used to being in the dark about where the meat from their animals ends up.

The role that Jessi and Chris play in co-ordinating a pool of local farmers puts those farmers in a position to sell their stock at a rate that is manageable to them and for a price that has been agreed upfront. They are creating a system with enough slack in it for farmers to take the time to truly care for their animals.
At the heart of the Monmouthshire Fayre operation is a principle of buying from farmers whatever amount of livestock their farms can responsibly support. Between the farms that supply Monmouthshire Fayre there is a good range of healthy stock and a shared risk, in the sense that no farm is under pressure to overperform to meet demand.

This set-up has worked really well with cows, sheep and pigs. It has been trickier for Jessi to find locally raised chickens that aren’t already in a supermarket contract. However, she’s now working with 4 or 5 farms, encouraging each one to raise around 20 free range and pasture fed chickens.

Jessi and Chris also co-ordinate the distribution of meat in a way that ensures zero waste, through their box schemes which contain an element of surprise. As there are only so many legs and shoulders to go around, you may get a different type of joint in your box. You’ll also get different breeds from week to week.