Taste Buds talks to Jenny Thompson, General Manager, about her role and future developments at this award-winning café in Parke
What is your background and did you have any previous experience in food or business?
I grew up in a B&B in Paignton. Some of my earliest memories are helping my mum tidy up after serving breakfast to guests, secretly eating leftover toast and drinking cold tea from glorious 80s-style stainless-steel teapots.
By 15, I had my first proper job in a local hotel, learning the art of silver service and the skills needed to work with the public and chefs. I loved it. A few years, and several interesting work placements later, I had a degree with commendation for Hospitality Management.
I cut my teeth as a manager at a conference & leisure centre in Torquay. I wanted a connection with food and farming, so I became General Manager at Riverford’s Field Kitchen. A few years there taught me that good food is simple food grown well. It wasn’t just their approach to food and farming that I loved – I fell in love with the Head Chef and we started a family together!
Motherhood changed my outlook, which led me to Home Farm Café – a family-run business where I could use my skills and knowledge part-time, allowing me to be a mum and develop my other passion, gardening.
What does your job involve?
My role is to support the business including the team and the owners. The job can involve anything from financial planning to washing dishes.
Why should we visit Home Farm Café?
We are incredibly lucky to be located within Parke, a National Trust Estate on the edge of Dartmoor. Walkers and visitors can enjoy winding paths, beautiful trees and riverside strolls, and end or start with a good coffee and homemade cake, or delicious snacks and lunches. We serve simple food cooked by our wonderful chefs every day.
We have grown from a tiny tearoom to a thriving café with candlelit dinners thanks to our dedicated customers. We’re looking to balance this growth with sustainability, and that means looking after our team. We champion local producers and suppliers, and are thinking further about what produce we might supply ourselves. We currently rear our own herd of Ruby Reds to supply our beef. We pick and press apples from our orchards, and have dabbled with growing pumpkins, squash and courgettes. We feel immense pride when we serve food we have grown ourselves, with a glass of our own apple juice – we want to develop that further. The latest project is about growing seasonal, chemical-free flowers – more on that later!
How do you switch off from work?
My perfect day off involves having my hands in the soil, surrounded by bees and birds. I adore growing food, flowers and herbs, and my allotment is my haven and where I feel like I am contributing towards a better future. It’s a potager-style plot, meaning there is a mix of plants including flowers to attract beneficial insects. I document my growing endeavours on Instagram (@organic_allotment_girl) and it’s caught the interest of a surprising amount of people!
How are you developing your organic growing style?
My allotment has led me to think more about the produce used at the café, and how we can become more sustainable as a business. We love having fresh flowers and I am creating a micro-flower farm to grow our own with zero chemicals and almost zero flower miles! The patch is designed to grow a good mix of perennial flowers and foliage, as well as flowers that can be dried and stored. It’s a new project, but already we have harvested so many flowers that I have started selling bunches to our customers too.