A golden opportunity on the farm

February 07 2013
A golden opportunity on the farm

We meet Debbie Keeling of Bath Harvest Oils, who spotted a golden opportunity growing at Wilmington Farm.

A golden opportunity on the farm

Visit a British farm today and you’re almost as likely to find llamas as you are sheep, or grapevines next to the more run-of-the-mill grocers’ stock. Debbie Keeling, Bath Harvest Oils

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimates that around half of the country’s farms have diversified in some form, from B&Bs and farm shops to exploring new crops and livestock alongside traditional farming.

And as the nation’s tastes have changed, efforts have been made to meet demand by growing more exotic fare on our doorstep – from chillies in Upton Cheyney to homegrown olive groves, taking advantage of changes in our climate.

There seems to be no tiring of the Mediterranean diet and its much-celebrated health benefits, with UK shoppers consuming around 28 million litres of imported olive oil per year as of 2008, spending £150 million. Little wonder a number of British farmers are trying to grow the fruit for just a drop of this lucrative market.

But one local entrepreneur is hoping to build up her share of the artisan oil market using a rather overlooked crop that has grown in Britain for centuries – rapeseed – and has already won over a number of local chefs with her products.

Debbie Keeling set up Bath Harvest Oils, based at Wilmington Farm between Bath and Keynsham, last year after leaving her office job and, while deciding what to do next, heard a discussion on the benefits of using rapeseed oil.

She said: “I thought ‘you could be on to something there’. I wanted to use something that we already had at the farm and most farmers grow rapeseed as part of their crop rotation. Most of it is then processed and used for low-fat spreads and margarines.

“We produce an artisan, high quality oil, that can be used for everyday cooking.” Rapeseed

Debbie cold-presses the tiny black seeds from the crops in a 400 litre tank, which takes around 36 hours. The oil is then left to settle, filtered and bottled at the farm ready to go to around 35 stockists, including Keynsham’s Banables butchers, and restaurants, including the town’s Farrells restaurant.  The bi-product goes to feed the farm’s Aberdeen Angus cattle.

Because it is only pressed once, the oil is also “extra virgin”. Debbie explained the oil appealed to people for different reasons, saying: “Some people are passionate about provenance and supporting British farmers and like using delis and farm shops to find local produce. Then for the foodies, it has a distinctive flavour and cooking qualities. For the health conscious it has half the saturated fat of olive oil and is high in omega 3.”

Debbie produces between 5,000 and 8,000 litres a year of the oil a year, winning bronze at the Taste of the West 2012 awards for the original oil. She has now created flavoured oils, including lemon, garlic and, teaming up with the Upton Cheyney Chilli Company, chilli.

These will be entered for awards this year as Debbie continues to raise awareness of her homegrown oil and its benefits, attending food shows, markets and tasting sessions at places that stock the range.

Recipe: Chocolate brownies

Ingredients Chocolate brownies

3 medium eggs

75g self-raising flour

75g ground almonds

200g soft brown sugar

50g good quality cocoa powder

100ml Bath Harvest Rapeseed Oil

Optional extras

(use 1 or 2 additions per recipe)

50g dried cranberries

50g chopped walnuts

25g mini marshmallows

50g good quality plain chocolate (chopped)


1.  Pre-heat the oven to 180°c (or Fan 170°c), Gas Mark 4.  Lightly grease and base line a 22cm square tin.

2.  Whisk together the sugar and eggs until pale and creamy.  Sieve in the flour and cocoa powder, add ground almonds and gently fold in.  Once combined gently, whisk in the Bath Harvest Rapeseed Oil.  Stir in any additions if using.

3.  Pour into prepared tin and bake in centre of oven for 20-25 minutes until the edges just come away and the cake springs back slowly when touched.

4. Cool cake slightly before turning out onto wire rack.  Cut into squares.  Keep them in an airtight container for up to three days. Gluten-free version:  Follow
the same recipe but substitute the self-raising flour with your own brand of gluten-free flour.