Interview with Sarah Righton: We meet the woman behind the Moreton Show 2018
PUBLISHED: 16:57 01 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:22 01 August 2018
On the eve of Moreton Show, we hear about farmer Sarah Righton ‘comfortably hectic’ life after overcoming breast cancer
Sarah Righton is a busy woman. She has to be. With husband, Simon, she runs a 300-acre mixed farm in the furthest corner of the north Cotswolds and it’s not just about the permanent pasture or the cattle, sheep, pigs and horses. There’s also a bed and breakfast business, a holiday let, a camping site and a farm shop. There are regular visits from school parties and Old Farm has opened its gates on Open Farm Sunday, when up to 700 people have come to see what happens in the countryside.
Life is fast-moving and comfortably hectic but she would not want it any other way after successfully overcoming breast cancer in 2010.
The 12 months of treatment made the 51 year-old mother of two reassess her life but she remains as busy as ever. Her enthusiasm for farming has led to countless radio interviews and numerous television appearances for her and Old Farm. Much of the publicity can be attributed to the Glamrock pigs (half Gloucestershire Old Spot, quarter Hampshire and quarter Duroc), the result of Sarah’s breeding programme, exclusive to Old Farm and featured as a new breed in Jack Byard’s book Know Your Pigs. But the farm was also the setting for Adam and Nigel’s Farm Kitchen in 2013, the same year that Father Brown came to visit. The BBC’s Countryfile has visited twice. There have been plenty of awards too, including Cotswold Life’s very own Best Farm Shop award in 2012.
Sarah said: ‘Our motto has always been to say yes to things because you never know where they will lead.’
She has a keen eye for a good story but publicity is also her way of telling anyone who will listen about the importance of farming in producing the food we all eat. She’s living the life of a modern farmer’s wife and loving every minute.
Old Farm is her domain. It’s in Dorn, little more than a collection of farms and cottages on the Batsford Estate near Moreton in Marsh that was once the site of a significant small Roman town. The trenches, walls, pottery and coins are buried now, under just one of the many fields on the farm laid to permanent pasture and next door to the caravan and camp site which is just one of the alternative enterprises that keep Sarah busy and Old Farm thriving.
Unusually, however, half of their land is given up every year for Moreton Show, probably the biggest one-day agricultural show in the country. It’s all in their tenancy agreement with the Batsford Estate that the fields must be laid to permanent pasture for the showground and the Rightons have been involved with the show since the first one in 1949.
With extra car parking planned for this year’s show on Saturday, September 1, that amounts to 150 acres of pasture. Setting up begins at the beginning of August and the land is handed back in the middle of September.
‘We love Moreton Show,’ said Sarah. ‘We’re both sit on show committees and it’s another chance to spread the word about farming to the thousands of people who come from all over the UK. If we don’t talk about what we do and the next farmer doesn’t do it and we’re all too busy to pass on what we know, then it could easily get lost. Farming has changed so much since Simon’s parents ran the farm and it’s still changing. It’s important that we pass on this knowledge because – you never know – we might need to go back to some of the old skills one day.’
For several years, Old Farm has sold its own produce at Moreton Show. This year, they’re taking things further. As part of the ‘Farmtastic’ feature of the Rural Attractions area, Sarah and Simon are bringing their own mini-version of Old Farm to the show, with some sheep, pigs and alpacas. It’s typical of Sarah’s enthusiasm that she wants to get more involved in promoting the business she’s in.
Sitting in the picturesque farmhouse with features that date back to the 15th Century, Sarah reflects on life as a modern farmer’s wife.
‘Simon is a third generation farmer because it was his grandfather that first took the tenancy of Old Farm in the 1930s. Simon was always going to take over from his father. Sometimes I get a little bit cross when I hear people talking about the farmer being busy, as if it’s just Simon. Women have always had a vital role in farming. It’s a team effort.
‘I didn’t set out to be a farmer’s wife and I feel very lucky to have all this. I grew up in the countryside in Cheshire though not on a farm. I always enjoyed working on the land in the school holidays. I’m a doer and I like to be out and about. I’ve always worked on farms. It’s difficult to explain why I was drawn to this type of lifestyle. Perhaps it was just in me.’
The life she loves came under threat in 2009 when she went to the doctor with a suspicious lump but she can even talk about her darkest moment with a smile.
‘I remember walking out of the doctor’s in a daze,’ she said. ‘But when the surgeon took charge and explained what was going to happen, Simon and I felt a lot better about things. I looked out of the window and everything was brighter, the grass was greener, the birds were chirpier and the sky was bluer and I just wanted to make the most of it.
‘That’s when I had my light bulb moment. I had critical illness cover so after my treatment we took two months off and said ‘right kids, where do you want to go?’ We went to Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. It was amazing and if I hadn’t had the cancer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford a trip like that. None of us knows what’s around the corner so you have to grab every opportunity with both hands.’
She went on: ‘The cancer made us both reassess. While the shop continued to get busier and we were thinking about expanding further, we took a step back in 2016. We still wanted to sell our meat but I needed to get back on the farm so the shop is still open on Fridays and Saturdays. We had to make the farm work for us rather than the other way round.’
Never one to stay still for too long, Sarah joined three fellow cancer survivors to form F4 - Farming Females Feeling Fabulous – and create a farming-themed, Calendar Girls-style calendar to raise money for Focus, the charity that raises money for the Gloucestershire Oncology Centre. The four have recruited Bake-Off’s Prue Leith, the celebrity chef who lives in Gloucestershire, as their patron.
‘Focus helps with the extras that make the treatment a little bit more bearable,’ said Sarah. ‘I wanted to put something back. We have a collecting tin in the farm shop but I hope the calendar will raise a lot more.’
Sarah, like all the women involved, will be featured on the calendar, which will be launched at Moreton Show and available on FarmingFemalesFeelingFabulous.com.
Moreton Show – the essential info:
Tickets for Moreton Show are available now from a variety of local outlets, as well as online, and there are considerable savings if you buy before show day. Show day prices – with savings in brackets – are adults £18 (£15); children £8 (£6); family tickets (2 adults and 3 children) £48 (£40). For all the details about the show and tickets, visit the Moreton Show website here or call 01608 651908.