Dunany Flour has featured in Clover magazine before but this time, to acknowledge the Workman’s shortlisted nomination for Arable Farmer of the Year 2017, we wanted to profile the farm that is the engine-room behind the flour business.
Andrew Workman, with his wife Leonie and their son Matthew, has been farming organically since 2004. They began to mill their own grains, pack and direct-market their flours in 2009. It is an inspiring, self-contained family business. The motivation to start processing the grain came when their friend and sole outlet for their organic grain sadly passed away.
They worked for a short time with a local water mill to process the grain. Because they mill the flour to order, they found timing and planning around another business to be cumbersome and inefficient so they began exploring other options. While travelling to Matthew’s wedding in Poland, Andrew and Leonie stopped off at Jena in Germany. On a chance visit to a local market they met a farmer selling his own flour. They got talking about the inner workings of his business and the rest is history. After being inspired in Germany, the Workman’s invested in a Skjold, a micro stone-mill and so began Dunany Flour.
The farm itself is stunning. It is a 400 acre peninsula north of Drogheda surrounded by the Irish Sea. The property is rich with old woodland while 290 acres of it is in productive arable land. Their large family home, once the summer house for Bellingham Castle Estate built in 1840 has been in the Workman family for many generations. The farm has a warren of roads running through it. I got lost more than once and even stumbled upon Andrews’s mother who also lives on the farm. Behind the main house there is a carefully restored stable courtyard in which a livery business is run by a third party. Behind that is the farmyard with the grain-stores and all the equipment for dehulling, cleaning, grading and drying the grains – this is an organised assemblage of home built, improvised and customised machines, all of which have a wonderful air of Heath Robinson. At the heart of all of this there is the clean, sealed milling room were the magic happens.
Two small mills process batches of flour to order. Like coffee roasters, Dunany’s flours are all about freshness; “that’s where the taste is” Leonie tells me. Once the grain is milled the clock starts ticking - they put a use by date of seven months on their flour to ensure they can stand behind its quality.
I imposed my visit on the day of the spelt harvest and the farm was buzzing with activity. Andrew kindly took time during his lunch break to speak to me. He climbed down from his combine, still vibrating, saying it was like “being in a glass house, sitting on a V8 diesel engine”. He explained the good and the bad points of their spelt crop and quickly talked me though their whole farming system.
They operate a stockless arable farm and so rely on cover-crops, rotations and mulching all the straw from the crops back on the field. They cut as high as possible with the combine just taking the seed head and the top half of the plants. This is mainly to avoid taking weeds or an under-sown crop (like white clover) into the combine. It is less strain on the machine and also makes it easier to clean the grain. The standing straw and any undergrowth is mowed down with a mulcher behind the tractor. All this plant matter is then tilled in before the next crop is sown.
The crops include winter and spring wheat, rye, spelt and oats (oats are considered a productive break crop because it is not a ‘hungry’ plant). Complete break crops include green manures of red and white clover. White clover is often under-sown, which works as a weed suppressant as well as a nitrogen fixer. Andrew is finding that red clover can often make the more fertile fields too rich in N and sometimes causes a vigorous weed problem. He said this season was a conventional farmer’s year because it was so mild diseases like yellow dwarf virus can be an issue. When dealing with unseasonal weather conditions, chemical inputs can bridge the gaps that organic farmers have to run and jump across. They are constantly learning, fine tuning and experimenting, working to improve fertility and resilience. They grow a broad range of crops both winter and spring sown so that if conditions are poor for one, they may be more favourable for the other.
The future for Dunany is mainly to continue to do what they do but better, and expand their market outlets. Currently they supply many artisan retailers like Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, other processers like The Regale Biscuit Company, restaurants and bakeries nationwide. They also provide a courier service for both large and domestic orders. They are in discussions with a local distillery about suppling them with organic rye and working with an Australian food laboratory who are experimenting with extracting the sugar from organic rye.
Milling their own flour and setting up Dunany Flour has made this farm viable enough to support two families. Michael’s wife - who was due with their third child at the time of my visit - is also involved in the business when not on ‘maternity rest’. As with many organic farms, it is always inspiring to see that a piece of land, farmed well with some innovation can sustain generational family livelihoods.