Willowbrook is a family run, organic farm specialising in halal meat. Based in the Cherwell Valley flood plain, close to Oxford, Willowbrook was born in 2002.

The farm began modestly, with just the production of organic eggs, but now, twelve years on, Willowbrook provide their customers with organic, halal chicken, lamb and beef – they also sell vegetables, cheeses and honey from local producers.

I had a word with Asiyla Radwan, daughter of Willowbrook creators Ruby and Lutfi:

 

  • Is organic halal meat a niche in the market? Why do you think this is?

Organic / free range halal meat is certainly a niche product. The Muslim community in the UK is sadly behind a lot of the rest of the world in terms of how aware they are about the treatment of animals and the way land is farmed; this is a shame because the organic way of farming and cultivation is so close to the principles of Islam.

Halal organic produce is most definitely a niche in the UK market but is filled with a dedicated vocal group of Muslims who truly believe in the environmental principles of farming sustainably and buying natural, healthy food.

  • How much of your farming methods and animal rearing itself are influenced by the Qur’an and hadith?

Our entire way of farming is influenced by the Qur’an. It was in search of not just halal and tayyib food that we started, but also a more halal and tayyib lifestyle - where we could be closer to the land and more connected with all of God's creation.
We believe that for an animal to be fully halal the way it has lived must be as halal as the dispatch. All too often in the Muslim community the focus is on the last moments of the animals life, not the months it has spent growing up.

  • Is it hard to rear the animals yourselves and then slaughter them? Is a personal bond ever created?

During lambing season there is always one lamb which, for whatever reason, has trouble feeding from its mother, or is born too small and risks dying from exposure. These lambs we bring into the house to keep warm and over the next few days, hand feed. So there is certainly a bond that is created. Eventually however, they are on a grass diet and healthy enough to release into the main flock. By the time these lambs are old enough to dispatch, they have usually forgotten we raised them and are mixed in with all the other lambs.
We did intend to sell goat meat, but my little brother and sister became so attached to the new kid that he has earned himself a new lease of life!

  • Can you honestly taste the difference between organic and non-organic meat?

Definitely. That said, certain meats are more obvious than others. Low quality chicken tastes completely different from properly raised healthy, organic or free range birds. They have actual flavour and texture to the meat. The low quality birds are as bland as cardboard! It is harder to intensively rear lamb and beef;  they need to be outdoors and they need to eat grass. While they can still be treated badly with chemicals and hormones etc. it is less obvious in the meat in comparison to chicken.

  • A lot of people tend to be put off organic meat because of the price of it compared to non-organic meat. Is there any way that you can see the cost of organic meat falling in the future?

Ultimately the low end meat is so cheap, only because someone else is paying down the line, in this case, usually the animals themselves. The mass production of intensive farming is simply not sustainable. While Organic is set at a high cost, I do believe it will go down in price as people realise the worth of it and turn to more natural methods of farming in the future.
I think people should pay a fair price for the quality of the meat that they are getting, putting a premium on an animal's quality of life isn't fair on the customer; this is why we as a business try to keep our margins as small as possible. I believe people should be able to make a choice and a compromise –  buying organic all the time isn't always feasible, but with free range and ethical or locally sourced produce, a customer can create a balance between ethics and economy.

  • Willowbrook currently do a drop-off in London and Leicester for those that cannot get down to the farm  – are you planning on taking this to other parts of the UK?

We currently have a Birmingham pick up organised by The Organic Shed. Orders can be made via www.theorganicshed.com/birmingham We don't have any plans to create any new drop off points, however if there is local interest, do get in touch with us.  

  • What is next for Willowbrook? Workshops? Events?

Definitely. We're hoping to have more events like the concert we had last year as well as talks and possibly screenings in the near future. And next Summer we will be opening the farm for another season of open days. Keep an eye on our website and sign up to our mailing list to stay informed.

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