Welcome to Higher Lank Farm, a glorious working farm in the midst of the Cornish countryside where the wonderful Lucy Finnemore has taken it upon herself as a challenge to cater for the oddball needs of food allergic kids. What a lady.
We only heard about this place after a friend, whose own toddler has a similar raft of allergies to Sidney, stumbled across it while searching online for child friendly UK breaks. She saw the website, which mentions in passing – and in typical no-razzmatazz Lucy style – that they “enjoy catering for people with special diets and food allergies” and there you have it.
Like me, my friend had never before trusted anyone (other than her own mother) to cook for her little one. But she interrogated Lucy by phone, was happy with her answers and took the plunge. Once home, she raved about the scones, sausage rolls, biscuits and treats that her boy had, for the first time ever, been able to enjoy. Not to mention the tractor rides, the lambs, the goats, the ponies…
I don’t think I would have done it if, to be blunt, our friend’s son had not effectively been the guinea pig for the holiday. But to actually get a glowing recommendation from a parent battling the exact same issues and – the biggie – for her child to have come through unscathed made me think we might take the risk.
Of course, I rang Lucy myself first and quizzed her as only an allergy parent can. Not only did she use the lingo that makes my ears prick up (“I scrub my kitchen down like an operating theatre”; “I never use any products that say ‘may contain traces'”) but she had even thought of providing a separate bucket for allergic tots to wash their hands in after feeding the livestock “just in case” the other children had eaten anything contraband.
In the 15 or so years she has been doing this, she told me, she has never had an allergic reaction – well, bar the parents who fed their own nut allergic child a nut-contaminated fudge they had bought in town. Mind-bogglingly, those parents were both doctors. And they’d forgotten the EpiPen.
Why does she do it? Because she relishes the challenge; enjoys concocting something wonderful for children who struggle daily with what they can and cannot eat. “Someone rang up one day and asked if I could cater for food allergies and I thought ‘yes, why not?’,” she says. How fantastic is that, when everyone else seems to say not ‘why not?’ but ‘why?’
So we booked. And when I rang my Mum to tell her what we’d done, I found myself suddenly blubbing. Two-and-a-half years of unrelenting – albeit low level – stress and worry; the constant searching, asking, interrogating to find something that might be safe for him to eat… it all came flowing out.
Finding a loaf of bread or a pack of porridge in a store isn’t just a matter of reading the label and plopping it in the trolley. You read the label, you scour the ingredients once, twice, again. You phone, email, Tweet the manufacturer. Invariably you wait weeks for a reply, chase them. Get a garbled response back, chase again. Then, maybe, you might feel confident enough to go back to the shop. Then when feeding time comes round, you sit and stare and study their face for a red splodge, check their tummy for hives, rear up at every clearing of the throat or funny look they give you until two or three hours have passed and you think ‘actually, yes, this one may be safe’. (Then you check them every five minutes while they sleep, just to be totally sure there’s no delayed reaction.)
Anyway – it felt like this: at last! At last somewhere we could feel safe for Sidney. At last somewhere we might have the pressure on ourselves relieved just a little; where we might not have to cook three meals before breakfast just to ensure he has all the food he needs when we go out for the day.
At last, somewhere he might get to taste treats he has never tasted before.
At last, somebody who gives a toss enough to make it happen.