Faced with a career choice in 1908, young Frederick Augustus Secrett chose horticulture. His father lent him £1,000 and with it he purchased a 20-acre plot in Kew. His first crops were leguminous vegetables such as peas and beans. In addition he also grew early cauliflowers and sea kale the latter being very popular in Victorian England. He sold his produce via a market stall in Brentford, transporting freshly harvested produce by horse and cart.
Known as FA to his fellow workers he was recognized early in his career for his ability to understand and develop sound horticultural practices. He outgrew his first farm and in 1915 he purchased Marsh Farm in Twickenham, this farm of 100 acres also included 6 acres of daffodils and tulips. These were sold at Covent Garden Market. He moved again in 1932 to the larger Holly Lodge in Walton-on-Thames. He was, by then, acknowledged as a pioneer of innovative new practices and when this land was bought by compulsory purchase to build a reservoir the House of Lords who recognised his contribution to good agricultural practice, gave him extra time to find another farm.
In 1937 FA moved to Hurst Farm and through FA’s pioneering growing methods it was feted as one of the most productive farms before and during WW2. This was immensely important as imports had stopped and there was a nation at war to be fed. Immediately after the war the farm expanded to 300 acres and the first half-acre greenhouse was built for the cultivation of salad crops and cut flowers. In the 1960’s a state of the art irrigation system was installed which helped boost production. Incredibly the same system is still in use on the farm today. During peak periods Secretts was sending up to 50 tonnes of vegetables to Covent Garden and Brentford Market every day.
However moving into the 1970’s the world of farming was changing rapidly and it was time to react. The farms cart horses and many crops such as flowers were phased out to make way for tractors and more profitable crops. The Secretts family were used to diversification and responded by opening a garden centre in 1970 (now owned by Squires) followed by the farm shop in 1979. Housed in the old stables the farm shop has been a huge success. In 1981 a Pick Your Own facility was opened to allow visitors to harvest their own fresh seasonal produce. This concept is a huge hit with families allowing children to experience food growing first hand. A delicatessen counter was added to the farm shop too with over 300 cheeses its one of the largest in the region.
Supermarkets, international travel and a modern approach to eating allowed the farm to respond by growing more unusual produce. Secretts were the first farm to grow rocket for the UK market. In fact the demand for salad leaves has shaped the farm sales and is an important part of their business today. A cut flower shop was opened (which now houses Black Barn Butchers) and a new 2.5-acre glass house was built to grow stock for the shop. The 1990’s saw the opening of Eliza’s Tea Room (named after AF’s mother Eliza Secrett). While the farm shop, tea-room and flower shop were doing a roaring trade the farm sales were increasing too! Sales of produce to top London restaurants particulary for freshly harvested baby salad leaves, baby carrots and beetroots were rising fast. In 1998 an arrangement with Waverly Borough Council saw the start of regular farmers markets a platform for local food producers to sell their products to the public.
Today the farm grows over 30 different varities of baby leaves, sowing seeds daily to meet demand. In 2006 the farm won the prestigious Observer Food Monthly Award for best produce! In 2008 the Secrett family celebrated a centenary of growing and retailing food – a huge achievement by any means! By 2012 the delivery of produce into London was taking valuable resources away from the core business (the family wanted to concentrate on growing not logistics) so distribution was handed to MASH PURVEYORS an established business distributing the finest quality produce to top London chefs.
Still a family run business today. FA Secretts grandson Charles heads the operation here while his son Greg manages the farm. Nicola Secrett (Charle’s wife) looks after farm sales and the growing band of farm labour. Today the business is vibrant and busy having stepped up eloquently to the challenges of modern day farming and food retailing.