David Buscombe, 58, his wife Sara, 57, and their twelve children run The Cornish Mill & Bakehouse from Trescowthick Farm, on the North Cornish coast. It’s a place of peace and contentment: a hundred yards from the house lies a tranquil dip covered in hawthorn blossom called Snow Valley, the Atlantic glistens in the distance, and the noise is not of traffic but of ewes bleating, dogs barking and skylarks singing.
From here the Buscombes grow and mill their own flour, bake a large range of bread, biscuits and pasties, and keep Black Rock hens whose eggs are used in their baking. The family are unusual in combining traditional values and a strong Catholic faith with a versatility that ensures they succeed in an increasingly tough commercial world.
“We’ve switched to whatever we’ve needed to do rather than what we’ve wanted to do,” says David. And that means hard work. “We work from dawn till dusk and a bit more most days. But we don’t count success as how much money’s in the bank – it’s how happy you are. That’s success.”
David and Sara have had several businesses since they met in 1967 when Sara’s parents moved into the farm and guesthouse next door.
“They brought her to me!” says David. “We married 3 years later and have been in business ever since. First we took on the guesthouse where I worked as the chef. Then I worked on the Trewithen Estate, milking herds for 14 years, and as the children started arriving, we set up a business selling secondhand baby equipment, with shops in Truro and Plymouth. We rented Trescowthick Farm from the Trewithen Estate, and when the property boom came about, we sold the shops, started farming and Sara began baking.”
10 years ago they decided to take a stall in the new Farmer’s Market in Truro. “The food just disappeared,” says Sara. “Soon we had two stalls instead of one.”
“It got so busy I said you’d better teach me to bake and we went from there, got bigger and bigger.” David laughs. “It beats farming!”
Friends who run Buddy Designs designed a distinctive white Cornish cross on a black background which clearly communicates the ‘Cornish Pride’ of the business and this logo won the Benchmarks Award 2007. The Bakehouse logo can now be seen on all their produce which they sell at Farmer’s Markets in Falmouth and Truro, as well as a range of cafes and restaurants. They also sell their additive free, 100% pure flour through the markets and wholesale, to such customers as the Eden Project.
Diversification is always important to farmers and the Buscombes are no exception. “With the cost of fuel and food going up, the balance is more difficult to maintain,” says David. “At the moment people still want what we’ve got but we are a luxury food business so if there is a crunch we may need to modify the business further. That’s why we’re selling more flour.”
Like any business, there are pros and cons. “The advantage to working with family is that if there’s a problem we resolve it straight away,” David says. “The only disadvantage is doing the Farmers Markets. That’s the only time Sara’s not there.”
7 of the 12 children still live at home and all are involved with the business in some capacity. “Even the youngest (twins aged 12) clean the baskets and van and help with the stalls,” says David. “It runs in the family – my grandparents used to have a barrow stall.” Four of the other children are partners in the business which suits them all. “Why should they work for us when they can work with us?” says David. “The family working together is the strongest bond we’ve got.”
But their faith is equally important. “The faith and the family is our life,” David says. “That’s what it’s based on. If you haven’t got anything to believe in, what’s the point? You just go on day after day - for what reason?” But he acknowledges that it’s not always easy. “You have to be strong to stand out.”
David and Sara decided to dispense with a television when they moved to Trescowthick Farm in 1990. “I didn’t want my children watching rubbish,” says David. “Parental supervision is vital as children do whatever their parents do. I always say if I do it, you can do it. If I don’t, you don’t. And it works.”
This authoritative approach to raising their children clearly does work. “Here they’re always outside with the ponies or playing football or rugger. Some play in the Newlyn East band and sing with the local choir,” says David. “What better place to bring children up?”
“All the children get on very well and that’s where our faith comes in,” says Sara. “We all have this background, so if you think you’ve done something wrong you apologise and move on. We don’t brood on it.”
David and Sara also sing with the Perraners, a group of singers that rehearse in Perranporth. “We used to compete in ballroom dancing up to intermediate level,” says David. “It got political after that so we decided not to take it any further.”
They never work on Sundays because that’s their day of rest, but David always cooks. “In winter I do a roast and a barbecue in the summer. We often have twenty plus sitting down to lunch and there’s always some left over in case anyone calls by.” He grins. “Then we all go and have a game of football – the girls as well. There’s a competitive streak in our family, so we need challenges – it keeps us on our toes.”
Meeting David and Sara, it is clear how happy they are. “I wouldn’t do anything differently, David says. “If I did, I wouldn’t have what I’ve got now and that’s what counts.” Life hasn’t always been like this. “We’ve been through incredibly hard times but it’s made us stronger. In recessions and tough times you either pull together or pull apart. The Trewithen Estate have been behind us all the way and supported the business.”
They haven’t been able to have many holidays but David looks ahead to when he and Sara can slow down a little. “It would be nice to take a back seat with Sara and let the children take over more. We could have a few holidays and see one or two places. But we don’t go ‘abroad’ over the Tamar very often!
“Cornwall’s home isn’t it?” he says looking out over the land with a smile. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. We often go to Holywell Bay on a Sunday – and what a place! It’s always different but always beautiful.”
And while some people might find it difficult working with their spouse, David couldn’t be happier. “I wonder sometimes how we get through with 12 children,” he says. “The answer to that is with a good wife who’s a good mother. We’ve never really fallen out – I just give in!” But he is entirely happy with the situation. “I can’t think of anything better than working with those you love.”
The Old Mill and Bakehouse
St Newlyn East
Falmouth Farmer’s Market is on the Moor on Tuesdays
Truro Farmer’s Market is on Wednesday and Saturdays on Lemon Quay
Cornwall Today, October 2008