‘Farm shops have never been more important’

17 February 2024, 10:59 AM
  • Emma Mosey, chair of the Farm Retail Association says farm shops continue to offer consumers one of the most sustainable ways to shop
‘Farm shops have never been more important’

“The thing about businesses like ours is they are really really sustainable,” says Emma Mosey, co-founder of Yolk Farm in Yorkshire, and current chair of the Farm Retail Association.

“As a farmer, you can either expand, get bigger, and likely become less sustainable, having to rely on chemicals, or you can go ‘B to C’ and diversify, more sustainably, while remaining small.”

Farm shops, Emma says, have a duty of care when it comes to protecting the environment that “makes sense when it comes to providing the best for customers, but also from a business point of view too.”

“Rural businesses, in particular farm shops, more often than not grow their own produce (for example we grow vegetables close to our shop), and some have their own animals, using local abattoirs. The animals are not moving very far, and are incredibly local. We also tend to have a really strong basis of local producers and suppliers. At our farm shop, 96% of what we sell comes from suppliers within 30 miles.”

This way of working and stocking makes farm retailing a strong model where sustainability is concerned. “Because we are not using resources beyond our area, and because the money people are spending in our shops is going back into the local economy. Also, we pay our staff, and they spend money in the local area,” adds Emma. “It’s a way of maintaining the planet, while maintaining the robustness of our local connection so we can continue to flourish.”

When you run a farm shop, “everything you do anyway is as sustainable as possible. We care about our patch of earth, and it makes economic sense. For example, we use produce in lots of different ways. If the cauliflowers aren’t perfect, we will use them to make soup or a cauliflower tart in the restaurant. We only pick what we need when it’s fresh, and our kune kune pigs are our waste warriors. They eat around two tonnes of waste from the shop each year!”

Emma “genuinely believes” farm shops have a hugely important part to play in the future of food, particularly with farmers leaving the industry in droves. She sees them as becoming ‘hubs’ where customers can be assured they’ll be able to buy fresh, seasonal ingredients at a fair price.

“I do think we are at this crunch point. People are being paid to leave farming, or are turning farms into conservation areas, which is great on paper, but look at it in practice. Riverford Organic did research showing 51% of farmers are thinking of leaving the industry. It’s quite terrifying really because no one is replacing them. If our plan is to do less of our own production and to import more, it doesn’t seem like there is a plan to solve the problem of food in this country. If we do have a Covid situation again, or war, we won’t have the resources to feed ourselves.”

Another dimension to food security, Emma adds, is the rising prevalence of ultra-processed foods over fresh food in the UK. Again, she feels farm shops, but also genuine farmers’ markets, have a part to play. “We’re missing that connection with real food and educating people around how to cook. I think farm retailers and farmers’ markets have a massive part to play in the future of how we feed people. If the government want to get good food to people in an affordable way, markets that source from local farms are a credible, sustainable option.”

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