Thursday, 16 September 2021

Owners of fruit farm gearing up to retire

THE owners of Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in Mapledurham are set to retire after 37 years.

THE owners of Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in Mapledurham are set to retire after 37 years.

Gillian and Dennis Franklin, who bought the 23.6-acre estate in 1978, have put it on the market and are considering moving to the Henley area.

They say they have enjoyed building up the venture but now find it hard to run without additional help.

The couple lived in London before relocating and Mr Franklin worked in finance in the City while his wife was a mathematician.

Neither had any experience of growing fruit but they wanted to buy some land and start a business in order to be more financially secure.

The orchard was originally about a quarter of its current size but the couple planted more trees gradually.

Mrs Franklin did most of the work initially while her husband kept his old job and helped out at weekends.

They had their first child Roger in 1979 and their daughter Sophie followed in 1982. Both grew up on the site and worked in the farm shop as children.

The farm now has about 2,000 apple, pear, plum, quince and damson trees and yields about 75 tonnes of fruit in an average year.

Just under half are Cox’s Orange Pippin apples, which are their most popular product, although the couple grow more than 60 varieties.

They mostly sell straight to the public from their premises a mile off the A4074 and at several farmers’ markets, including those in Henley.

They also supply a few restaurants, including Raymond Blanc’s Michelin-starred Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton.

Mrs Franklin said: “We knew nothing about growing apples but we were young and raring to go. It’s amazing how quickly you learn.

“There was a lot of economic doom and gloom and people were losing their jobs so we wanted something we could run ourselves for some added security.

“I wouldn’t like to say how much we paid but we couldn’t have afforded a penny more. We spent everything we had on it but it proved worthwhile as we’ve developed it into a well-known local business.

“We thought the trees would just grow by themselves and it would all be a doddle but we soon learned that the more effort you put in, the greater the reward.

“We were very lucky because on the day we moved in, two people who used to do the pruning for the previous owners phoned and asked if we needed their services.

“We didn’t even know what pruning was but it sounded important so we said yes. They did an absolutely wonderful job for us for about 10 years after that. The more we got involved, the more excited we got and the more we wanted to expand and start new projects.

“We had no idea what it would grow into and if we’d known how much work we’d have to do, we’d probably never have started. I think ignorance was bliss.”

Mr and Mrs Franklin plant new crops in January then tend their orchard until the harvest starts in August.

During this time, they run courses for people who want to learn more about growing apples and give talks to community groups.

Each October they host an Apple Day celebration with peeling and pressing demonstrations, lectures on apple farming, market stalls and a children’s conker match.

They have no permanent staff but recruit scores of casual workers throughout the year.

Mrs Franklin said: “We have become a big part of the community and met a lot of people through the business.

“Our customers are marvellous and almost like friends to us – they come up every year and are really excited by what we’re growing.

“Their children also really enjoy tasting the apples and it’s very rewarding to see people get excited about what you do.

“That’s something you don’t see in the supermarkets because there’s no personal contact.

“It was great that our children could work in the shop from a fairly young age as it helped their mental arithmetic and gave us something to work on together as a family.

“We’ve been very happy here and loved every minute of it but most of our friends retired some time ago and we’re having to be realistic about what we can do.

“We prefer to do everything ourselves but we’re having to get other people in so we should probably move somewhere that’s easier to maintain.

“We will miss it but we want to stay in South Oxfordshire, possibly in Henley, as it’s such a beautiful area to live.”

The couple’s farmhouse was built in 1948 by Ernest Belcher, who died three years later, and has been extended several times since.

It is being advertised by Savills with a guide price of £1.85million.

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