ENTREPRENEUR Steve Perez is renowned as the millionaire creator of Vodka Kick, a champion rally driver and the man behind Chesterfield’s first four-star hotel...but most people are unaware that he’s also a serious farmer.
Perez believes in the true farm-to-fork experience. So one of the first things he did on deciding to build the Casa Hotel was to set up an organic farm on 30 acres of land around his home, four miles away on the edge of the Peak District.
Three years on, it has mushroomed in size and provides the majority of produce for Casa – including beef, lamb, pork, eggs and vegetables – making it the only hotel in the UK with its own organic farm.
Steve got his first experience of the good life as a smallholder in the 1990s, keeping hens and growing vegetables while he laid the foundations for his Global Brands empire.
Walton Lodge Farm – now 300 acres – is considerably more demanding, so he has handed over the reins to farm manager John Brailsford, a 62-year-old neighbour with a lifetime’s farming experience.
“It’s very different from what I was used to but I love every minute of it,” said John, who once drove lorries to eke out a living from his own tenanted farm.
Organic farming is a costly business. It is governed by rigorous inspections and a manual several inches thick – even the grass seed used to grow animal feed has to be certified before use.
The farm is now mainly given over to grass, hay and silage. It currently supports 180 cattle, 200 sheep, 220 pigs and 175 free-range chickens which produce 1,000 eggs a week for the hotel.
“Everything we serve in the hotel is fully traceable – and Walton Lodge is a fully accredited organic farm,” said John.
“The main advantage is the welfare of the animals, which is paramount. I do think it’s better than the farming I used to do.”
The farm also produces all the hotel’s herbs, including purple basil, mint, chives, rosemary and thyme.
Steve takes a personal interest, visiting the farm daily and hand-picking strawberries and seasonal vegetables.
The hotel gets through a cow, three pigs and three lambs each week. The animals are slaughtered just three miles away and the farm produces its own sausages and bacon.
“It’s got to be the best breakfast in the country!”
Casa head chef is Andy Wilson, who takes pride in using every part of an animal – apart from the tail – in his dishes.
“I’ve never worked anywhere else where we use organically bred meats and it’s amazing what a difference it makes,” he said.