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Farm shops can be a huge asset for your sustainable, healthy, community. A community where the farm and other local farmers supply the shop direct with a wide range of foods produced to high environmental standards. By selling direct they get a better price, (see below) and you get fresher, often cheaper, food. And better food security.
On our local food map we have farm shops in all shapes and sizes, from farmers selling their own produce from a shed, to a mini zoo with a small warehouse full of products from all over the world.
One thing, we hope they all have in common is a mission to become the centre of their sustainable food community with you as a valuable regular customer. Valuable not just through your food spend but also from your positive feedback and buy-in to your community, instead of the profit focused supermarket.
Farm shops often started when farmers realised that they were only getting a small percentage of the retail price if they sold their produce through the existing supply chain. 10 years ago, my family farm for instance, got around £100/ton for our onions from a distributor then saw the same onions on a Tesco shelf for 85p/kg (£850/tonne). As a result we stopped growing onions 5 years ago!
The first farm shop must have started when a farmer with a shed beside a busy road put a sign out and people dropped in to buy. The rest is history.
Since then the planing authorities have restricted many shops from being set up, normally insisting that new farm shops must stock a very high percentage of produce from the farm or local radius. In time however shops can appeal and the percentage be reduced by arguing that customers will be lost, if a wider range of goods are not available. Hence the small warehouses.
So what does the perfect farm shop look like (in my humble opinion)? And this is where I perhaps upset a few farm shops owners!
First of all a farm shop should live up to its name and be farm centric completely differentiating itself from the supermarkets. If it is based around a farm and local produce many seasonal products should be cheaper than the supermarket because the supply chain is shorter. If my family had sold our onions to a local shop at £200/ton they could have sold them at £400/ton and been 50% cheaper than Tesco.
Prices can be kept low by inviting local consumers and schools to Crop for the Shop with really fresh and perhaps unusual fruit & veg. There could be a special section of home grown local produce. Potentially prices can be set 20% less than the supermarket and still give the shop and grower a good return.
Unlike disgraceful supermarkets, (blog here) The perfect farm shop should make every effort to label where everything comes from including, ideally, local farmers names and pictures. And have the local farmers attend at the shop once a month to answer questions and talk about their produce, like a farmers’ market.
If possible the shop should have animals around the shop to attract children and raise awareness of where meat comes from. Likewise it would be great to have an area for Pick Your Own fruit and veg and perhaps a community supported agricultural scheme where locals are encouraged to join in and learn how to grow food.
Likewise most farm shops have a cafe that could be made available for cookery demonstrations or classes, to help locals move away from take-aways and expensive salty ready meals, to fresh home made food from inexpensive local ingredients.
This latter idea is exactly why we set up our Cook-Share initiative please check it out and join in.
I would also love to see farm shops celebrating the seasons with open days, tastings and demonstrations. Asparagus day, or Apple day, where locals can bring their windfalls to be juiced or made in to cider. Perhaps Sausage day, Winter Warmer Soup day, and Turkey Collection day!
Farm shops should become the centre of the food community, reconnecting people with food and encouraging locals to get involved with growing and cooking. We would love to see every farm shop linked to a local school where the kids grow food for the school kitchen and the farm shop. More here.
Please help your local shop become ‘perfect’. Most farm shops suffer from a Catch 22 position. Not enough space, or, enough people are using their local farm shop for it to grow into the perfect shop, above. And until they grow, people think there is not enough produce available for a one stop shop, like the dreaded supermarket!
Also please tell your friends, if we all change our habits, to buying from our local food shops, we can build a more sustainable, healthier LOCAL food industry And with our schools build more sustainable, healthier, caring food communities.
We must not follow the USA where 40% of food is wasted and the food industry is effectively bankrupting the health industry.
If your local food shops are not on our map please email us here and we will add you to our monthly prize draw to win one of 4 £25 MarketPlace gift vouchers.