Latest news from Big Barn and our producers.

Local, Sustainable, Food or Food from robots?

Anyone seen the amazing video below about Ocado’s Hive distribution warehouse? ‘Hive’ because it is similar to a natural bee hive. Rather ironic if you consider the carbon emissions these hives produce from construction, plastic packaging, 2,400 robots, and huge food miles getting 50,000 kinds of products to and from the warehouse.

Should we celebrate all new technology? Or like me, worrying about the loss of jobs, farm incomes, healthy food, food security, or, who pays for all this, both financially and environmentally?

Fulfilment centres like Ocado’s can take three to four years to build, and cost £225 million

Ocado has debts of over £1.5b and made a loss of £500m in 2022.

WOW!! How can they keep trading? And no wonder so many box schemes and food delivery businesses have closed down. What a crazy world we live in. And even crazier food industry.

On average farmers only get 9p of every £1 spent in the supermarket

What do we really want? Food from robots or, fresh, seasonal, sustainable, food from local farms with zero food miles and no packaging?

It looks like Big Business and government think that we want cheap food, a huge selection and don’t care about the environmental cost, or our health. I include government because UK Food Policy for 40 years has subsidised intensive farms, encouraged free imports of low grade foods (including many that are illegal to produce in the UK) and ignored food education in schools or taxing unhealthy products.

Big business think they can use their clever marketing, and consumer’s general lack of food knowledge, to persuade us to switch to online ordering. Messages like:

“you are far too busy to go shopping, or bother cooking”

“we have lots of delicious foods and ready meal that your kids will love”

How many chickens get to their second birthday?

“why drive to the shop when we can deliver to you anytime”

“click here for 50,000 products”

Unfortunately we tax payers will have to pay for all this. Increased NHS spend on food related disease, government subsidies, etc. Or perhaps even the loss of our pension funds if Ocado or one of the supermarkets go bankrupt.

As a fifth generation farmer I would much rather see the creation of local food systems where perhaps only 50-200 products are available but all produced locally with high environmental standards and no packaging. Systems where customers discover real food and take an active interest in how it is produced.

This could be a good farm shop, or our new BigBarn concept ‘Food Park’ where a range of producers (baker, butcher, dairy, cafe) come together in one location and encourage the local community, farmers, and school, to get involved in growing produce. When I say ‘get involved’ I mean, in time, prefer to source their food from their Food Park instead of the more expensive, supermarket.

Asparagus planting team

This is all possible when you consider that for every £1 you spend with Ocado the farmer, on average, gets about 9p (9% of retail price). The other 91p goes to transport, packaging, waste, depreciation, robots, etc. Compare this to the Food Park where the producer gets 60-100% of the retail price. Even at a retail price cheaper than the supermarket this gives the kind of return that encourages more food production. More here

This ability to give producers a good return means that we will be developing all kinds of food enterprises. We could for instance have a small herd of 15 dairy cows with an automatic milking and vending machines and be profitable. Compare this to a commercial dairy where 200 cows are required to gain the economies of scale needed to make a small profit.

Oh dear, this means we will also have robotics! In this case however we will be using technology to help the producer get a better deal, instead of Ocado using robots to increase middle men margins as they pack bags with unhealthy foreign food.

To see more about our first Food Park (currently stuck in a Clarkson-esk planning process) click here:

Join the BigBarn Local Food Community


Hear about seasonal food, articles about food, interesting food news in your area and offers.

(A postcode will help us give you local news)

Please check at least one option below

List *

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at [email protected]. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please read our privacy policy. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

No, thank you