BII sustainability champions, Vicky and John Judson FBII know a thing or two about taking a green-fingered approach to growing their business, The George, a 15th century inn at the heart of the beautiful village of Castleton in Derbyshire’s peak district. The BII’s Teodora Pancheva MBII reports
Castleton is a small village with just 300 residents, but attracts tourists and others with its scenic walks and famous caves and caverns. Under the ancient ruins of Peveril Castle, on the quiet Castle Street, is The George, a Wells & Co pub, operated by Vicky and John Judson FBII since 2018. Experienced licensees, having run another pub locally for many years, the couple arrived at The George with a good knowledge of the area, accompanied by their most loyal customers and team members – many of whom have been with them for 17 years. Having refurbished the pub, the couple then looked to expand the business and purchased a neighbouring house with a plot of land attached. While planning restrictions wouldn’t allow them to build on the land, a seed of an idea germinated in September 2022, leading to the cultivation of an ambitious allotment project, which has seen the creation of 29 raised beds growing delicious home-grown produce for the pub’s kitchen. This successful project has become the talk of the town, as Vicky and John grow a wide range of produce, from cauliflower and carrots, to berries and tomatoes. It all gets harvested and is used to create dishes for their special’s menus, either as part of a dish or to feature as a jam, chutney or sauce. “There are only 300 people living here and we are the village local. We have a tourist menu with pie, fish and chips, burgers and so on, but for the specials we use the produce from the garden, and we also use local suppliers. We have gained a fanbase and our loyal customers keep coming back,” says John.
Community Since first developing the garden, they have put up greenhouses, installed a polytunnel and, most recently, established beehives. John and Vicky have also built strong connections with the local community, who have been more than happy to help by offering their own produce and even additional land. As word has spread, more locals have become involved, with the Judsons growing a whole network of people offering a variety of produce. And in return they give back something they’ve made, which could be anything from jams and chutneys to flavoured vodkas. “It’s a village community. Everybody brings along their surplus produce – it’s lovely,” says Vicky. “We have had enough rhubarb to make crumble for four months, but that’s boring. So, we have also used it in some of the specials, serving it with venison for instance. We have also made flavoured gins and used the leftover pulp to create boozy rhubarb and ginger jam.” Vicky loves chatting about the garden and sharing new ideas, so much so that she says customers in the pub can spend whole sessions talking to her about little else. And the interest has spread outside of the four walls of The George. “A lot of locals, or people staying in the campsite, will walk down just to visit the garden and to see what they will be eating that night,” she says. The garden provides other benefits too, from cost cutting to marketing. “We find that when people know a dish contains ingredients from our garden, it sells really quickly because people appreciate the fact that it’s homegrown.” They have also created about 40 lines of flavoured products in jars and bottles to sell. “When people realise we make our own home-made sauces, they’ll end up buying some to take home,” says Vicky
New ideas As an experienced chef, John is always using his food knowledge to find ways to reinvent dishes, so that whatever produce is available, it can be put to good use at The George. “I always tell my staff that when I was younger and working in the kitchen, I wish I had had Google! We either had to watch what others were doing, or find it in a recipe book. Now, we keep an iPad in the kitchen – it’s the best tool out there.” The George’s Head Chef, Billy, has been with the Judsons for an impressive 17 years and John likes to give Billy and the team, including the newest staff members, the freedom to pick and choose what to make with their ingredients. New ideas have seen the team expanding from jams and crumbles into making ice cream and sorbets. John says: “It’s hard to get chefs, but we find that if you keep them engaged and interested, rather than sticking to the same repetitive tasks every day, it’s makes the whole experience a lot better.” Part of the couple’s sustainable approach sees them also thinking of ways to ensure any by-products are not discarded, like the aforementioned pulp from flavoured vodka. “By repurposing everything, we’ve cut down on how much we throw out, meaning we’ve saved about £150 off bin tax a month – it’s a factor people often forget about,” says John.
With September 2023 bringing to a close the end of their first full year with the garden, John and Vicky took the opportunity to learn about what worked and what didn’t. For instance, while 75-80% of the garden worked well, there are areas with more direct sunlight that affects what can be successfully grown there. “It has been a bit of trial and error, but that’s what gardening is – it’s unpredictable.” To get the best from their garden for the upcoming year, they have been working with a friend who can provide drone footage of the area. Using this overview, they can plot out where everything should go, along with taking advantage of all available space, including planting herbs and peas on the garage roof. “The owners of the field next door Vicky loves chatting about the garden and sharing new ideas, so much so that she says customers in the pub can spend whole sessions talking to her about little else. And the interest has spread outside of the four walls of The George. “A lot of locals, or people staying in the campsite, will walk down just to visit the garden and to see what they will be eating that night,” she says. The garden provides other benefits too, from cost cutting to marketing. “We find that when people know a dish contains ingredients from our garden, it sells really quickly because people appreciate the fact that it’s homegrown.” They have also created about 40 lines of flavoured products in jars and bottles to sell. “When people realise we make our own home-made sauces, they’ll end up buying some to take home,” says Vicky. New ideas As an experienced chef, John is always using his food knowledge to find ways to reinvent dishes, so that whatever produce is available, it can be put to good use at The George. “I always tell my staff that when I was have allowed me space for three beehives. I’ve ordered the bees online – which is weird thing to say,” says John. And along with a move into beekeeping and honey production, they are also planning to increase the number of raised beds, get more beehives and install solar panels. Inspired by our BII Ambassadors’ Lee and Keris De Villiers, Licensee of the Year Award 2023 finalists, the couple are currently in talks with local holiday home owners and village residents about setting up a SAVE the DRAIN scheme. This will see The George collecting people’s waste oil for recycling. “Every day is a school day,” says John, concluding that it’s always nice to learn about what other operators are doing and see how they might be able to do something.
If you’re looking to create your own pub garden, John and Vicky share their best advice on starting out: “Start off small – work on stuff you know you’re going to use. We always recommend pea shoots, they’re quick and easy and always on the menu.” “Never expect everything to work – gardening is a process, not everything grows. Learn from mistakes and change for next time.” “You don’t need to buy new – take an empty tub, make holes in it and now you have a planter. You can always find something to repurpose without spending money for new stuff.” “When it starts growing, figure out how to use every part of it – whether that will be in a sauce, gin, jam or as compost for the next project.”