Many city-folk dream of ditching the day job and escaping to the countryside to live the good life, but few actually commit to making this dream a reality. Ruby and Adam Tildsley have done just that, leaving jobs in Scarborough behind in favour of establishing Tree Top Press in nearby Suffield. The young couple now produce cider, run a farm shop, grow vegetables and pack up veg boxes to be delivered to homes across the surrounding area – all whilst raising their three young sons.
In 2011, Adam first had the idea of making fruit cordials and cider to make use of the apples from the trees in his garden. ‘After returning home from studying for a Masters degree, Adam wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next, so he started this business on a part-time basis alongside working as a tennis coach,’ says Ruby. ‘Then four years ago, when I was still working in social services, we had our first child. I decided I didn’t want to go back to a full-time job, so it was the perfect time to really give the business a go.’
The family now live in the cottage where Adam grew up and his parents live next door. The apple and pear orchards produce an abundant annual harvest, from which the couple make three types of cider. ‘In the autumn, when all the fruit is ripe, we pick it and sort it all by hand. The perfect quality fruit will get pressed and made into fresh apple juice, whilst the other, less perfect apples, will be turned into cider,’ explains Ruby. ‘We wash them all, before funnelling them into a large machine called a scratter – not a very nice name really – which chops them up. This pulp is then pressed in layers between big sheets of cloth called cheeses. We now have a hydraulic press, but when we first started we had to turn a massive screw by hand to squeeze out the juice, which was pretty laborious. Once all the juice is collected, it then goes into a fermentation tank and left for about six months – the longer you leave it and the cooler you keep it, the better the flavour. Finally, it is bottled in the spring or summer ready to be sold.’
The three varieties of cider are all named with their Yorkshire provenance in mind. ‘Our medium cider is called Sugar Loaf, which is made with traditional sweet dessert apples and is named after a little hill nearby,’ says Ruby. ‘Tabular Hills is a dry cider named in reference to the hills which surround our home, and Hackness Rock is our sparkling cider, named after the geology in the North York Moors area. We just thought it was a nice way to link our cider with the landscape it is has come from.’
Initially opening a pop-up shop, which soon turned into a full-time farm shop, Tree Top Press now stocks home-grown vegetables, free-range eggs from the Tildsley’s own hens, local meat from Anna’s Happy Trotters and Herb Fed Poultry, Yorkshire honey from Marcus Cordingley in nearby Scampston and a popular range of bread baked by Ruby herself. ‘I use stoneground flour from Gilchesters Organics and I make all the bread by hand using traditional methods, which is a long and slow process but it means I end up with really nice loaves that are full of flavour. During the week I make traditional white, wholemeal and seeded sandwich bread, but I also make a variety of different sourdoughs. Although this can often mean working well into the evenings, it’s a really nice time that I enjoy having all to myself,’ says Ruby. ‘Our bread is one of the massive draw-factors attracting people to the shop as there is an alarmingly small number of bakeries in and around Scarborough where you can buy fresh bread. I think we’re the only ones who are using exclusively organic ingredients.’
Two years ago, a nearby plot of land covering two and a half acres came on the market and Ruby and Adam jumped at the opportunity to buy it. ‘We’ve set up a no-dig market garden on the land, which means we grow vegetables all year round with literally no digging,’ says Ruby. ‘Traditionally you would plough the land or dig up the soil with a garden fork, but this destroys its structure and disturbs all of the microbes, bacteria and fungi in the soil that keep it healthy. Instead, we mulch the ground and put layers of compost on top. All the goodness in the compost is drawn into the soil naturally, via worms and insects, and this keeps it in a really good condition. It’s also a lot easier in the long-term as we don’t have to do the regular back-braking digging and weeding.’
‘When we bought the land it was full of shoulder-high nettles, thistles and brambles,’ says Ruby. ‘It was really rough ground and we had to cut it all down before putting a layer of cardboard in place, topped with tons and of tons of compost – a ridiculously huge amount.’ Now, with the help of an additional polytunnel, Tree Top Press are filling their veg delivery boxes with a whole host of produce, from tomatoes and salad leaves to courgettes, beetroot and kale. The farm also grows a range of herbs and surprisingly some more exotic vegetables. ‘Last year was a particularly hot summer, so our plants did really well, but when we put our aubergines in the farm shop, people were amazed – they couldn’t believe you could grow something like that in Suffield,’ Ruby says.
Despite last year’s bumper harvest, the elements aren’t always as kind. ‘We’re quite high up here so we are always battling the wind, and we get lower temperatures. Sometimes we wake up in the morning in a thick cloud, but then you can go down into Scarborough and it’s bright sunshine,’ says Ruby.
Ruby and Adam’s appealing lifestyle is documented on Tree Top Press’ Instagram page, where their sons are often shown helping out on the farm. ‘Our three boys are all still very young, so as you can imagine the farm is a good way to keep them entertained,’ laughs Ruby, but reveals that this way of life isn’t always as idyllic as it may first seem; ‘It is really hard work sometimes. When we first opened the shop, we didn’t know how popular it was going to be. Thankfully it’s been really busy and things often sell out, but this means working extremely hard and having very long days to keep up with demand. But it is still a great situation to be in and we get to stay at home with the kids, so even when things are really tough, we have to remind ourselves that we are very fortunate.’
Tree Top Press is a real family affair, and now Adam and Ruby are looking to maintain a thriving business whilst supporting their children. ‘We’ve expanded so much over the past few years that we’re now wanting to concentrate on keeping up with what we’re currently doing at the farm whilst the kids grow up,’ says Ruby. ‘Every year we’re trying to expand our growing area and next year we’re wanting to have an area for strawberries and soft fruits, which is really exciting.’
There seems to be a lot going on all at once at Tree Top Press, but Ruby assures us that this is the kind of life which works best for them. ‘Sometimes friends and customers advise us that we might be trying to develop too many different sides to the business at once, but we really enjoy the variety of work,’ explains Ruby. ‘I love that the year is split up into seasonal activities; autumn is all about the apples, after Christmas we deal with rhubarb, and then there’s always something else to move onto after that. Our favourite time of year is late spring when everything is just starting to grow – the farm always looks so full of promise.’
The Tildsleys try to promote an organic and sustainable lifestyle on their farm by reducing wastage, plastic-use and food-miles. But for those just starting out in their green-fingered journey, Ruby has some top tips. ‘One of the best things to start growing is lettuce. You can pick up some seeds from your local supermarket and then all you need is a salad tray and some compost. Grow it on a warm patio or window sill – you don’t need much space. You can grow it on a cut-and-come-again basis so you won’t have to wait for it to fully develop all over again each time. It’s also something you can pick easily and eat straight away. Alternatively, strawberries are really easy to grow over the summer and work well in a hanging basket so that they won’t take up too much room. The difference in flavour between homegrown and shop-bought fruit and vegetables is just immense – there’s really no comparison.’
Hillcrest Cottage, Suffield, Scarborough YO13 0BJ, 07713 966 990, www.treetoppress.co.uk