Summerdown are ‘the Peppermint People’. They’ve been growing their rare Black Mitcham peppermint on their farm in Hampshire, and distilling it into the finest pure essential oil, since the 1980’s. One of the UK’s founding BCorp farms, we went to meet them to see if their products might fit in our guest welcome packs.
Rachel, Founder of NFE, interviewed Jo on a sunny late spring day in 2022. Summerdown was started by Jo’s grandfather. Now in his 90’s, he still takes an active role in the business and they have weekly meetings to discuss progress. The family have owned the farm for 100 years.
Jo Colman, grandson of the founder Sir Michael Colman, is a humble, eloquent and enthusiastic chap. His family has cared for the Hampshire farm for 3 generations, where around 100 acres grows Black Mitcham peppermint.
Summerdown is the second farm in Britain to gain BCorp certification. Jo was so impressed by the attitude of the BCorp team (then based in the US) that he entered into the rigorous process to gain accreditation for Summerdown. He says, “They took a proactive approach to understanding existing British farming environmental certifications, it was a sensible addition”.
The farm is already LEAF and Red Tractor accredited but they felt it was important to be part of the BCorp journey as both a farm and brand.
Their peppermint oil is the star ingredient in everything they make – their award-winning collection of chocolates, teas and treats includes their best-selling peppermint creams, crisps and thins, three plastic-free restorative herbal teas, indulgent peppermint chocolate bars in fully compostable packaging and body, bath and home fragrance treats such as diffusers, candles and bath soak.
“I believe that land gives you humility. We are custodians here. We are just passing through. This soil will stay here forever. How we govern the farm, the choices we make about the soil, the air, the plants, the biodiversity, it’s important. How we leave the farm for future generations will be the measure of our success”.
The farm grows Black Mitcham peppermint, an old British species that was bought back from the US because it had been all but lost to UK farming during the war years. Over the Autumn and Winter the peppermint concentrates is growth underground and in April, like most perennial plants, it starts to reappear.
We keep a broad swathe of wildflower borders next to the crop which attracts an array of biodiversity. Summerdown’s approach to farming is to try to enhance the natural environment to create the best quality crops. As the new ‘RSPBC Fair to nature campaign says, “Without nature, there is no food”.
In August we mow the crop, leave it for a day to lose some moisture, then harvest it into cooker tubs – special giant sealed trailers. We steam the mint using an industrial boiler which started its life in a local hospital.
As we steam the peppermint, the oil is extracted from the plant. The oil packs a punch! I smelt it and I can confirm that it’s strong! The oil is then barrel aged for two years (much like a fine wine) before it’s ready to go into Summerdown’s products.
Jo and I discussed the idea of regenerative farming and bio-abundance; the restoration and management for maximum biodiversity. Jo and farm manager Ian Margetts are highly selective about farming methods and making sure they use modern technology to reduce emissions.
Soil damage (and carbon emissions from soil disruption) is avoided by using mini-till drilling and satellite technology is used to ensure there is precision every step of the way.
The small farm is managed by a highly skilled and dedicated team who take great care in everything they do.