FARM SALES allow producer control

20 October 2000

FARM SALES allow producer control

The Farm Retail Association

celebrates 21 years of

helping farmers to sell direct

to the public, this year.

farmers weekly was

there at the beginning and

Tessa Gates takes a look

at how the association and

the shops have evolved

THE coming of the domestic freezer and a demand for produce to fill it straight from the field contributed to the start of an association for farmers selling direct.

In the late 1970s, pick-your-own fruit and vegetable outlets had the public flocking to them and one of the farms FARMERS WEEKLY ran at that time had a thriving pyo business. The FW farms manager of the day, John Ascoli, was a driving force in getting the idea of an association rolling at an exploratory meeting in 77 and it culminated in 400 delegates attending the inaugural meeting of the Farm Shop and Pick Your Own Association on Oct 10, 1979.

&#42 300 members

Twenty-one years and a name change later, the Farm Retail Association has 300 members and represents all sectors of farming selling through farm shops, pyo farms, farmers markets and box schemes.

Some of the farmers attending that inaugural meeting and conference, remain members to this day. One was Andrew McTurk, current FRA chairman, of Calcott Hall Farm, Ongar, Essex. "Demand for locally produced food has grown and farmers selling direct find they can grow their business. They can also apply for new streams of grant aid from this autumn and we will have information about applying for grants at our annual conference (Nov 5-7) in Chester," says Mr McTurk.

Visitors to Millets Farm Centre at Frilford, near Abingdon, Oxon, would be surprised to find that this huge attraction which has a large farm shop, two restaurants, a garden centre and landscaped farm park was just a simple pyo operation in the 70s. Wishing to attend the initial meeting, John Carter wrote: "At this stage no farm shop. I am developing a self-pick site on 20 acres and my interest in this conference is that I feel a farm shop may fit in and be complementary to self-pick."

Another highly successful farm shop – Chatsworth Farm Shop on the Duchess of Devonshires estate – was included from the start. It has grown from farm gate sales to a premier farm foods outlet with a second shop in London.

Todays newcomers look set to be just as successful. New to the game are Stephen and Rebecca Domleo who have thought out their farm shop so that it integrates well with their mixed farm and gives them options for change according to the economic climate. Fishleigh Barton Farm Shop is on a main tourist route south of Barnstaple at Umberleigh, Devon.

"I have dreamed of having a farm shop for years and decided to go with it because I was alarmed at the way the milk price was falling. That was something out of my control.

"I felt there was a prospect of a living from the shop for the next 10 years," says Stephen, who farms 121ha (300 acres) in a family partnership with father who is semi-retired.

Half the farms 120 head dairy herd was sold and the quota leased to help fund the shop which is based in a converted Grade II listed barn. It includes a soon-to-be-licensed restaurant, well-equipped play area and garden. There is also a separate meat cutting room and cold store. They worked hard to get 5b and other funding and Business Link helped with the business plan.

"We have the safety net of 300acres and we have 60 young stock left if the herd has to be rebuilt. We have very little money borrowed – I would be sweating a bit if we were paying off a loan," says Stephen.

The Domleos employ two part time butchers to cut and pack meat from the farm and make sausages. "At the moment a bullock a fortnight is going through – the target is one a week," explains Stephen. Lamb from the farm is also a good seller and pork is supplied by a local co-operative. Virtually all the goods in the shop are produced in Devon.

The restaurant is proving a real draw and the kitchen is at the heart of the shop. Customers can see scones and pasties coming hot from the ovens of the huge Aga as well as lunches and Sunday roasts.

"We thought it would be a good idea to have the kitchen in the shop because the girls could be cooking when they werent serving.

"However we have been so busy it hasnt quite worked out like that," says Stephen, who takes a turn at the cooking himself. "Our pasties are a big seller – one lady bought 18 to take home with her."

&#42 Seasonal menu

The main cook for the 34 cover restaurant formerly worked at Castle Drogo and bookings are already being taken for "Christmas" dinners with a full seasonal menu, which are being served on Friday evenings and Sunday lunch-times during December.

"We have gone for a belt and braces approach really. If one bit didnt work another would," explains Stephen. At the moment however, it all seems to be working just fine.

Inquiries: Fishleigh Barton Farm Shop (01769-560242).

Afternoon tea in the

restaurant at Fishleigh Barton Farm Shop.

Printing gremlins nibbled the colour from these cheese pictures last week. Both Coolea – supreme champion at the British Cheese Awards, made by Coolea Farmhouse Cheese, Co Cork, and Trelawny (right) made by Sue Proudfoot, Whalesborough Farm, Marhamchurch, Cornwall, are a mouthwatering mellow yellow.

Producer, retailer, restaurateur, cook…there is no end to the hats that Rebecca and Stephen Domleo wear in their farm shop in Umberleigh, Devon which is drawing a regular local trade as well as tourists.

Time For Action is the theme of the Farm Retail Associations conference and trade show 2000 to be held at Hoole, Chester, on Nov 5-7. Speakers, awards and a tour of seven local farms are included in the programme.

Contact 023-8036 2150 or for more information.

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