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Honorary Degrees awarded [Tuesday, February 14]

Press release issued: 14 February 2006

Bristol University is awarding honorary degrees to two prominent people at today’s degree ceremonies in the Wills Memorial Building [Tuesday, February 14].

Bristol University is awarding honorary degrees to two prominent people at today’s degree ceremonies in the Wills Memorial Building [Tuesday, February 14].

Mr Michael Eavis, entrepreneur and Managing Director of Glastonbury Festival Ltd, will be honoured with the degree of Master of Arts at the 11.15 am ceremony.

Born in 1935, Michael was educated at Wells Cathedral School. Aged 15, he joined the Union Castle Shipping Line as a trainee midshipman, spending four years on ships between Britain, Kenya and South Africa.

Michael inherited Worthy Farm after his father died of cancer when he was just 19. What was then described as 150 acres of land, 60 cows and an overdraft, a now expanded Worthy Farm is home to the Glastonbury Festival, the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world.

Inspired by the Blues Festival at the Bath and West Showground Michael decided to begin a festival of his own on a smaller scale. The first festival was held in 1970 over a two-day period with an audience of 1,500. Today the Glastonbury Festival attracts upwards of 150,000, and has featured internationally acclaimed artists such as Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Mark Bolan, David Bowie, Oasis, Black Eyed Peas, Cold Play and Joss Stone.

In the 2005 festival, 50 per cent of all waste was recycled, including 110 tons of organic waste composted. Streams and hedges remained unpolluted, and coffee and chocolate were FairTrade.

The festival also donates hundreds of thousands of pounds to causes including Greenpeace, Oxfam and Water Aid.

Mrs Mary Mead, farmer, entrepreneur, and Director of Holt Farms Ltd, will be honoured with the degree of Master of Arts at the 2.30 pm ceremony.

Mary along with her husband and son represent the best in British agriculture, always willing to innovate and diversify, yet remain faithful to their belief that farmers, basing their actions upon sound scientific principles, should always aim to achieve a good balance of care both for their animals and their land.

Mary’s life story illustrates both the pain and the joy of what it is to be a farmer. Born in 1938 into a non-farming background Mary was brought up in Backwell. She attended Fairfield PNEU School near Bristol and then Clifton High College.

Mary met her future husband Roger Mead when she was just 17. Roger came from a local family who had been farming in the Worle area since the1400’s, and this opened up a new world for her. 

In 1961 they moved to Holt Farm on the edge of Blagdon Lake, which they purchased with family help and an NFU mortgage, for the sum of £28,000.  The land was highly productive and lent itself to dairying, and the Lakemead herd of pedigree British Friesians was established.

Initially Mary’s role like many farmers’ wives was to rear the children, keep the accounts and records, inject the newborn piglets, collect the eggs and when required drive the tractor. Her children were born in rapid succession, Sarah in 1962, Tim in 1963 and finally Amanda in 1969. In 1970 Roger and Mary increased their holding with an extra 50 acres by purchasing the adjacent Lag Farm.

Innovation and diversification characterised Roger and Mary’s approach to farming, theirs was one of the first local dairy farms to use cow cubicles, and they majored on quality grass and silage. They also diversified into the production of cash crops. Pick your own strawberries and pick your own sweetcorn. The increased numbers of visitors to the farm from Bristol required refreshments – thus the diversification into farm cream teas.

This was so successful that the milk they were selling to the milk marketing board rapidly was becoming skim milk, since so much cream was being taken to feed the visitors. This dilemma was quickly identified and solved by the decision to diversify even further and use the skim milk to produce yoghurt.

By 1974, they had established a thriving yoghurt business at Blagdon, supplying local outlets in the region and also supplying cheese and other local produce, produced by their neighbours.

From 1974 until the mid-80’s this side of the business grew, operating from a wharfside site near St Mary Redcliffe. All milk from the farm was utilised for yogurt and thus fortuitously avoided milk quotas when they were introduced.  In 1987 having recently qualified as an accountant, Tim Mead, Mary’s son came home to join the family business at a critical time in its expansion.

Then in 1990 tragedy struck. Mary’s husband Roger was killed in a tractor accident, Mary decided to take direct control of the farms in order that Tim could concentrate on the yoghurt business.

Both enterprises continued to grow under their joint leadership. The farming business has rapidly expanded by progressive acquisition of a substantial area of the Mendip Hills. It now consists of several farms extending over 1,400 acres with two dairy herds totalling 420 cows, rearing its own young stock and growing much of its own cereals. The yoghurt business is a similar success story of growth and diversification. In 1993 it launched its own organic brand. It now has an annual turnover of £140 million, produces 25 per cent of all UK yoghurt and employs over 1,000 local people. The Yeo Valley organic brand has just entered the top 100 listed UK Food brands.

Thanks to Mary Mead's generosity, the local church has access to the lovely grounds of Blagdon Court House, Mary’s home, for its annual fete and Blagdon Local History Society now has new premises in the centre of the village.  At its official opening in September 2000, Mary accepted the offer of being President of the Society.

Mary’s farming success relies on her appreciation of the fundamentals, the weather, its impact upon the land and soil type, and the quality of the crops grown. This provides the nutritional base for the production animals. The successful management of the complex interactions between nutrient supply, genetics and husbandry is the core business of the farmer since it controls both the reproductive performance and milk yield of the modern dairy cow.

Mary is on the Council of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, a member of the prestigious 300 Cow Club, and has been given the Award of Associateship of the Royal Agricultural Societies.





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