With only a month to go before voting closes on October 2 in this year’s Sussex Food and Drink Awards, the shortlist for Sussex Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Knill James, was revealed today and the public invited to choose their favourite.

Five of the cream of the crop have beaten over 50 farmers nominated for this prestigious prize, to reach the judging panel’s shortlist, sponsored by Knill James. They include Robin and Kevin Ashby of Willetts Farm in Blackham; Tim Hassell of Home Farm in Goodwood; Steve and Phil Hook of Longleys Farm in Hailsham; Jenny and Trevor Passmore of Church Farm in Lancing; and Rother Valley Organics’ Shon and Simon Sprackling at Sandilands Farm in Rogate.

“All five candidates have been chosen for going the extra mile in promoting Sussex food and farming and all have really made a mark on the local produce industry,” said Suzanne Craig of Knill James, who co-leads the firm’s specialist agriculture, food & drink team with Kevin Powell.

“I am delighted to have seen so many superb farmers, from the full length and breadth of Sussex, entered into the awards and it’s been very tough narrowing down the shortlist this year. We now ask the public to vote – at www.sussexfoodawards.biz – for the one they think is most deserving of this year’s trophy.”

Details follow:

Robin and Kevin Ashby, Willetts Farm, Blackham, East Sussex

Father and son Robin and Kevin Ashby are fourth generation Sussex farmers. Robin, now 73, returned to what was then a traditionally-run farm after completing his National Service and by the late 1980’s decided to expand and diversify the farm. His wife Audrey had always produced wonderful home-made ice cream using milk from their own award- winning dairy herd and so the idea was born for Willetts Farm Ice Cream. Now produced in 16 flavours plus four sorbets, the ice cream is sold primarily through local farm shops and delicatessens and is much loved by foodies across the county.

Tim Hassell, Home Farm, Goodwood, Nr Chichester, West Sussex

Tim Hassell became Farm General Manager at Goodwood in October 2009, moving to Sussex with his wife and two children to take over this huge concern, with a staff of 13. Born in Sheffield near the steelworks, his family worked in the steel industry, but he lived near a farm as a child and loved agriculture and rural life from an early age, so went to Agricultural College rather than the steelworks. He started his working life on a Youth Training Scheme on a farm in Burton, moved around the country gaining experience, and has lived in Tamworth near Gloucester, Newcastle then Basingstoke, where he worked on his first organic farm. Innovations which Tim has overseen include rearing Christmas turkeys and a new venture to press cheeses. In conjunction with their Farm Shop, the Goodwood team runs farm walks and tours and hosts school visits, promoting food and farming.

Steve and Phil Hook, Longleys Farm, Hailsham, East Sussex

Hook and Sons have gone from strength to strength in the last three years, since they won Sussex Farmer of the Year in 2008/09. Their organic raw milk, initially just available in the local area, is now sold in three London markets including the prestigious Borough Market and this, coupled with their new UK-wide online ordering service, has helped sales more than triple. The product range has also expanded to include cream and butter and this expansion has meant an increase from eight to 16 staff in the last two years. Looking ahead, the Hooks want to go to more London markets and create a new milking and processing system. They also hope to be able to increase visitor numbers to Longleys Farm, giving them the option to stay on the farm in yurts.

Jenny and Trevor Passmore, Church Farm, Coombes, Nr Lancing, West Sussex

Former winners of Sussex Farmer of the Year, brother and sister Jenny and Trevor Passmore run Church Farm together and their mother Mary, now 90, still helps out. Their father Dick was awarded an MBE for his work in education and conservation in the rural community and Jenny’s son Andrew is now at Plumpton College and hopes to become the fifth generation of the Passmore family to run the farm in the future. Church Farm is farm assured and classified an Environmentally Sensitive Area and farms sheep, cattle and arable land. The farm is open to the public, averaging 15,000 visitors a year, mainly during lambing, but also hosting music festivals, beer festivals and weddings.

Shon and Simon Sprackling, Rother Valley Organics, Nr Rogate, West Sussex

Shon and his brother Simon manage a commercial farm of over 4000 acres, with a large organic butcher’s selling meat directly to customers, through farmers markets and to local shops. Shon gives talks to various organisations about local produce and the story behind Rother Valley Organics, which is renowned for its excellent animal welfare and good husbandry. He works with other local producers putting meat into their products, including the local brewery for beef and ale pies. Their butchering and cold store is the largest in the area and many other local producers use it to get their meat to market. Shon and Simon are also known for their environmental conservation and help organisations such as the local Council, National Trust and others to effectively manage and graze their land in a sustainable way. They are particularly proud that their organic beef is classified as a high health status herd which lives on grass all the year round.

Other remaining categories for this year’s awards include: Sussex Food Producer of the Year, sponsored by The Southern Co-operative; Sussex Drink Producer of the Year, sponsored by Sussex Food and Drink Network; Best Sussex Eating Experience, sponsored by Mayo Wynne Baxter; Sussex Young Chef of the Year sponsored by Natural PR with support from City College Brighton & Hove; Best Sussex Food/Farm Shop sponsored by South Downs National Park and Collabor8; Sussex Butcher of the Year sponsored by Natural Farms; and Best Sussex Farmers Market, sponsored by the Lewes brewers Harveys.

This month boasts a plentiful supply of fantastic events across the county for all food and drink lovers. The Brighton and Hove Food & Drink Festival is running throughout September, the Horsham Food Festival is about to kick off and there is something happening almost daily for people to enjoy. Find out more at www.sussexfoodawards.biz