16 March 2001

FARMSHOPINTOWN…

Londoners are keen to buy British farm

produce particularly organic, as

FARM W5 owner Tom Beeston knows.

And he told Tessa Gates that they buy

on quality not price

RUNNING a farm shop in Ealing, west London, may not be everyones idea of dropping out of the rat race, but it is for Tom Beeston.

This dairy farmers son studied agriculture, has worked for, among others, a fruit and veg importer, Northern Foods and Dairy Crest. He reckons he could be earning a six-figure salary in marketing but prefers to take a less than living wage to establish the first of what he hopes will be a chain of farm shops in the capital.

A self-confessed food snob, he personally selects the lines he stocks in Farm W5 and promotes them to customers with enthusiasm. "Taste this," he says pouring English Gold cold pressed sunflower oil onto a spoon. We do and it has a wonderful nutty flavour. Made in Faversham, Kent, the bottle carries the St George cross.

Soon we are hearing about the succulence of Graig Farm meat from Wales, Pimhill organic flour, Fundamentally Fungus – "the best farmed mushrooms in the UK" – Gina Burts "simple and good" cakes from Sussex, John Munsons eggs – " the duck eggs are wonderful for making cakes" – and looking at bottled water, apple juice, organic vegetables that have been puréed and frozen in baby-size portions and much, much more, not least a selection of around 35 cheeses in this little shop that has been open just a few months.

His quest is to sell British produce, preferably supplied direct from the farm, and organic where possible.

Surprisingly, the idea for the shop was prompted by a meal he had in Italy. "We were there on holiday three or four years ago and wanted to cook a meal for four of us. We went out to buy the ingredients and everything was either locally produced or at the very least Italian. When we tried to do the same thing here with all British produce we couldnt find it.

"I dont blame our farmers, they have always been price takers. They are the best farmers in the world but the worst marketeers. However, if they dont look now for local markets they will have lost them forever."

&#42 British buyers

Feeling that there were plenty of people keen to buy British, Tom set about finding a shop and suppliers. The leasehold shop into which he has invested some £80,000 is within walking distance of the home in Ealing he shares with his wife and is all part of the ethos that it should be integral to the local community in which he feels so at home.

However, finding producers who would supply to London (foot-and-mouth restrictions apart) has not been simple and he has to make up the shortfall with non-British goods.

"I have been looking intensively for British products for two years," says Tom. "I want premium products. I dont ask how much, I ask how good."

There seems to be a big gap in the availability of some farm-produced, added value products to retailers such as Tom. "We are looking for fresh organic paté, fresh meat pies and fresh fruit pies. We cant find fresh soup and we cant find a pizza or even good cold organic meat delicatessen items. We cant find bread from a rural supplier within reach of London, yet there is a massive demand for artisan bread.

"We can buy apple juice but why cant we buy carrot juice? If you can produce one why not produce the other even if you have to buy in the vegetables? asks Tom. "If only a group of say 10 farmers would come together to supply or even open farm shops in London or Manchester. The customers are there."

And his customers are the very people some farmers think are against them – people who support Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. "These are the people most likely to buy British. Greenpeace says buy local, buy organic, buy British. What were enemies are now allies," he says.

Most surprisingly of all, members of the large French community in this area of London are among his most regular customers. "The French are over the moon to see British food in here and very happy with it."

Tom describes his cutomers as people who love food. "I am selling British because it is British and they are buying it because of its taste and quality. No one mentions price."

Inquiries: 020-8566 1965.