It wouldn’t be surprising to see ‘Carole Bamford’ listed next to the dictionary definition of ‘pioneer’. She’s the energetic matriarch of Daylesford Organic (which counts an organic farm, several food shops and pub, The Wild Rabbit, amongst its many successes) and founder of Bamford, a clothing, bath, body and homeware range and award-winning spa. She’s also been a champion of sustainable, mindful living for over 40 years, driven by her profound belief that we need to work in harmony with nature. She is, in short, a trailblazer.
“I was one of a very small handful of people trying to break from the mould and do things differently,” she says. “When I started farming organically, many people thought I was crazy and that it would never work.”
She began making her family farm organic in the 1970s, which was a period in which British farming was all about large-scale industrial farming that did more damage than good.
“To go against that and try to slow things down and look after the land was seen as outlandish,” she says. “But it was my beliefs and convictions that encouraged me to change what we were doing.”
Fast forward to today, and she’s become a household name in the world of sustainable luxury, and her brands are firm favourites amongst the rich and famous. She’s certainly put organic farming on the map, and her passion for leaving the world a better place than she found it continues to inspire her – and us – to this day.
We were fortunate enough to speak with her about her vision, inspiration, and journey – as well as sharing some of the lessons she’s learnt along the way.
You’re credited as being a visionary in organic farming and food retail, with multiple businesses and charities. What was your initial ‘lightning bolt’ idea and how did you transform it into the business we see today?
There were two moments that caused me to realise things had to change. The first happened in my garden – it was a hot summer, I was pushing my new-born daughter around in her pram and noticed that my newly-planted roses were wilting. The farmer next door to us explained to me that they were spraying Roundup, which I learned later is a strong herbicide. Its toxins had been carried by the air and had caused my roses to wilt. It was shortly afterwards that I was at the Royal Agricultural Show and came across a tent run by an organic farmer. He explained to me what being organic meant and how we could raise our animals and grow our crops in a sustainable and natural way without pesticides or antibiotics. On the way home I remember saying to my husband, “We can’t carry on farming the way we are; we have to do it differently”.
That was the moment that changed things for me. Our farm manager was initially very sceptical about taking up organic practices, but I was quite determined, and he agreed to try it on 30 acres. It took three years to get them up and going, and seven for the whole farm to become organic. That was the seed of it all but everything since then has always developed very organically and the growth of the business has just been very natural and instinctive. I’ve never really had a plan; I just go with my gut feeling.
1. Daylesford Organic farm 2. Bamford SS22 collection 3. Bamford Wellness Spa Brompton Cross 4. Daylesford Organic farm 5. Bamford homeware 6. Bamford bath & body range
Why do you think more people are becoming interested in eating more sustainably, and what impact do you see this as having on the world?
I think that people are beginning to understand and appreciate the true value of their food and equate its production with the climate emergency we’re experiencing. There’s an awareness that the way we produce food has a direct impact not only on our health but on our environment, and so more and more people are arming themselves with information about where their food comes from.
There’s also been an awakening around food waste and how much damage it does to our planet. Food waste is currently the world’s third largest polluter, which is hard to fathom and comprehend as it’s so unnecessary and preventable. It’s something that as a society we vitally need to address –from an individual perspective in our homes as well on a corporate and governmental level.
You recently wrote about being inspired by wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding the beauty in imperfections. Does this have an impact on how you approach your business?
Yes, absolutely. The wabi-sabi philosophy goes far beyond the aesthetic: its values encourage us to lead a slower, more mindful way of life. When we shop for fruit and vegetables in certain large outlets, we are likely to find unblemished, shiny, seemingly ‘perfectly-shaped’ produce. But when you buy an organic carrot, apple or potato, it’s often a bit misshapen, muddy and has the odd bump or blemish. For me those imperfections are what makes that produce wonderful – they are a reminder of nature’s work and I think there is a profound beauty and an appreciation to be found in that. It's for the same reason that I choose to work with craftspeople. Products that are handmade still carry traces of the human hand that remind us of the skills and the emotion that run through that piece and help us appreciate it.
Daylesford Organic Farmshop by Martin Morrell
What else inspires you?
My children and grandchildren. My children are taking up the mantle I started, working in sustainable fields and trying to make a difference to the world’s future, and they fill me with hope. The younger generation is innovative, creative and fearless and they remind us all that we cannot sit by and let the climate crisis happen. My grandchildren inspire me to keep pushing – we have to keep fighting to change the future and pass on a planet that is safe and thriving and where they can enjoy the bounties we have.
How did you find your feet in the business world, and do you have any advice for women thinking about starting their own company?
I started over 20 years ago and I think – and hope – things have changed since that time, but it certainly wasn’t always easy. I had to be prepared not to take no for an answer. As a woman in any field, it can be difficult to find your voice and you sometimes have to fight harder than men, so you need to be very determined and have the confidence and the will to stick to your guns.
And in terms of starting a company, my advice would be to be passionate – do something you really believe in. At the outset, the hours are likely to be long and you’re inevitably going to meet adversity in many forms, so it’s important that you love what you do and are prepared to want to work hard to achieve your aims.
For more information on Lady Bamford or Daylesford, please contact your lifestyle manager.