HBM News
Kentish News
Council News
« Jul 2011: most read | Main | Review launched into HS1 impact on regular rail services »

Former jet-setter finds the good life on the farm

The way Steve Dansey tells it; one minute he was a milkman, the next minute head of IT security at a major global corporation. Now he's running a farm in Whitstable and making sausages that he sells in his delicatessen on Herne Bay high street. It's a career trajectory so unlikely it makes you do a double-take.

The 52-year-old makes the move from dropping off bottles of semi-skimmed to scanning the files of international banks on the hunt for fraud sound disarmingly simple. And the sausages? Just a return to his roots as a butcher's boy and son of a meat salesman… He told Ed Targett how he ended up with thousands of pear trees, a herd of Badger Face Sheep and an injunction from Canterbury City Council...

From Essex milkman to global techie: how did that come about? I was working as milkman for Unigate in my twenties when they decided to select some internal staff for training on new IT systems they were rolling out. I got picked for the team in what was meant to be a four month project but ended up being 18 months.

So you stayed on? Actually the project wrapped up and when it finished there were no milkman jobs left going! I was out of work, but a bit handy at computers by then, so I spotted a systems administrator position available in Ramsgate, applied and somehow managed to get it.

Did you study computer engineering at university? No, I don't have a degree. I actually left school at 16 and went to work for my grandfather who had a small business in Essex, import-export of canned goods. I did all sorts of bits and bobs after that; working as a butcher's boy, doing markets and working for Tesco.

Computer security isn't something you typically just pick up. But you ended up heading a global IT team? After entering the IT world, I set about teaching myself more programmes. IT is inherently logical and I genuinely think it's something anyone could teach themselves. You just need a certain amount of dedication and to spend a lot of time glued to a screen.

It sounds like you enjoyed it. I did, a lot. Just to be clear though I didn't write software: the security systems I created were procedures documentation and structures for companies. In the mid-1990s I joined a company, now called Actimise, which specialises in fraud detection. It was a typical start-up with around 50 people and a nice place to be, as we were still working with the founders. I ended up running their IT security department, had offices in nine European countries and used to fly out to the US on Tuesdays and back on Fridays. It was a bit a break-neck paced life.

What were you doing exactly? Mostly, writing programmes that would scan bank files to detect fraud. There are so many kinds of financial fraud: cheque kiting, front running… you'd find account statements for a single day that were 40 pages long! We'd scan laterally and poke about searching for wrong-doing, of which there was plenty.

So how did you end up in a deli in Herne Bay? We were bought out in 2006 by a US conglomerate, which restructured and I lost my job. I'd moved to Whitstable in 1987 and along with my wife Sue, who's always had very green fingers, bought some land to set up a small farm. It was an investment for us -that we could afford at the time -and always a dream we'd had. And after I lost my job, it was the only thing we had and we simply had to make it work as a business.

That must have been tough. Try telling a bank you want to renegotiate your mortgage on some land when you've got no income coming in! We had and still do have many sleepless nights.

How's it going now? Well, we have a farm across two sites, in Whitstable and Dargate, called Butterfly Meadow. My wife had started making our own fruit snacks for sale at farmer's markets – well before I lost my job – and we aimed to expand on that; the "fruit purist" snacks we make were recognised at the Taste of Kent awards which was gratifying.

What do you grow, or rear? A bit of everything: We have goats, chickens, Aberdeen Angus cattle, a herd of Badger Face Sheep, 4,000 pear trees, 800 plum trees. And getting back to my roots as a butcher's lad we make our own sausages; pork, chicken, beef… all kinds of sausages, all hand-made.

So you employ a team of dedicated sausage makers? Myself, my wife and my daughter, no less. I clearly owe them a lot!

Were there many bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in setting up a working farm? Where to start? I've actually just won a five-year battle with Canterbury City Council to keep the place going which has cost me more than £11,000 in legal fees. They had an injunction taken out against me that has just ended. The whole thing ended up in mediation, which was amazingly efficient. But five years of struggle just to try and set up a local business? Incomprehensible.

What was the problem exactly? Amongst many issues, they wouldn't accept that my land in Dargate and Whitstable was one farm, despite DEFRA having recognised it as one and it sharing the same national code. They wanted me to have planning permission for some six-by-four moveable chicken hutches I'd put up. Solicitors at the National Farmers Union laughed their socks off that I'd been made to demolish some hutches of that size; you shouldn't need planning permission for small, moveable hutches.

Has that been resolved? Yes, like I said, through mediation. But not before I found myself owing the shirt off my back in solicitors fees! Still, life goes on and we're born survivors.

And the deli certainly seems full of local goodies. What have you got? Fudge from Hempstead Valley; honey from Blean; pickles from Dover; cheese from Dargate; oils from Quex; apple juice from Broomfield; ice cream from Ashford, you name it!

What was you first car? An Austen A35 that cost me 10 bob!

First record? A reggae version of Love of the common people.

And… have you ever seen a ghost? Ummm. Yes, actually. Well, more an apparition. It was on Kent Common in Hayes… It's hard to describe frankly; not a human form but something that just materialised, drifted this way and that and then faded away again. Very odd.

HB Times 22nd Jul 2011

Butterfly Meadow Farm's shop is called High Street Heaven

at 80 High Street,  Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5LE

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.