Farm shops come in all shapes and sizes, from farmers selling their own produce from a shed, to a mini zoo with super-duper small warehouse full of products from all over the world. One thing, we at BigBarn, hope they all have in common is, a reasonable quantity of local food and the ability and enthusiasm to tell the ‘story’ of that food.
The ‘story’ means reconnecting consumers with the production of their food, how it has been produced, where, and by whom. Really important if the shop wants add value, display a real difference to the supermarket and to win customers.
Farm shops 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. My family for instance get around £100/ton for onions, marked up to around, the equivalent of, £800/ton on the supermarket shelf.
The first farm shop must have started when a farmer with shed beside a busy road put a sign out and people dropped in to buy, the rest is history.
Since then the planners 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? And this is where I perhaps upset a few farm shops on our map!
First of all a farm shop must 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.
Prices can be kept low by inviting local consumers to Crop for the Shop with really fresh and perhaps unusual fruit & veg. There could be a special section of home grown local produce. Prices can be set 25% less than the supermarket and still give the shop and grower a good return.
The farm shop should make every effort to label where everything comes from including local farmers names and pictures. I would also like to see many of the farmers 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 and car park to attract children and raise awareness to where meat comes from. Likewise an area should be available 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 expensive salty ready meals, to fresh home made food from inexpensive local ingredients.
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. There is no reason why they can’t also be the centre of food swaps of home cooked meals.
A BIG problem at the moment is that farm shops suffer from a Catch 22 position. Not 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!
So please catalyse the process and find and support your local farm shop and tell them about the ideas above. And tell your friends, if we all change our habits, to local for our weekly food shop, and the big shop once a month, we can build a more sustainable, healthier LOCAL food industry.