Talking Shop with Darts Farm

06 August 2021, 09:17 AM
  • Michael Dart, director, walks us around Darts Farm: an independent retailer with a zest for the good life
Talking Shop with Darts Farm

It all started with Ronald Dart, back in 1971 when he started one of Britain’s first pick-your-own businesses, Pic Fresh. Long before it became fashionable, he believed that we should eat what is in season and produced as locally as possible.

In 1982, Ronald passed away and the newspapers called it the “Death of a Pioneer”. It was then that Ronald’s three sons, Michael, James and Paul, returned home to create Darts Farm, the place as we know it today.

Following on from what their father started, with the same ethos and family values, the three Dart brothers further developed the business, creating a vibrant, nationally award-winning farm shop overlooking the beautiful Clyst Valley.

The working farm, run by Paul, the eldest of the brothers, is still at the heart of the business. Using traditional farming methods and centuries old rotational practices means that their rich, red Devon soil is full of life and fertility.

Each morning the farm team goes out to the fields and hand-pick fresh, seasonal fruit and veg to sell direct through the farm shop. During the summer months, their native herd of Ruby Red Devon cattle graze on the River Clyst Meadows.

Michael and James had a vision to create a unique shopping destination that champions local food and drink from the farm and other incredible, local and passionate artisans; they wanted it to be about the home and the great outdoors, to be somewhere that you are able to go and spend the whole day.

You can reconnect with nature by visiting the animals, winding your way through the vegetable fields, or wildlife spotting in the bird hide overlooking the wetlands. If you are feeling adventurous you can hire a bike and discover the beautiful views the Exe Estuary has to offer.

Who’s in the farm shop team?

With over 17,000 visitors a week, the Darts Farm team pride themselves on exceptional customer experience and a warm, friendly atmosphere around the store; this is enhanced by the Dart brothers’ hands-on involvement nurturing and working with an amazing management team and passionate members of staff. Across the site there are over 250 passionate people employed; from the farm boys bringing in the veg, the Farm Shop, Drink Cellar, Butchers and Deli teams who are on hand for all of your artisan food and drink needs, to our hand-picked specialist retailers for the home, lifestyle, hair, body and great outdoors… not forgetting the chefs, baristas and servers at the Restaurant, Shack or Fish Shed for when you’re feeling peckish!

What sets Darts Farm apart from other independent retailers?

Darts Farm is a vibrant, nationally award-winning farm shopping experience, with a working farm at its heart. Each morning our farm team goes out to the fields and hand picks fresh seasonal fruit and veg to sell direct through the farm shop. In the summer months you’ll see our beautiful herd of Ruby Red Devon Cattle grazing on the banks of the River Clyst.

The food hall is filled with hundreds of hand-picked local and artisan suppliers; the best West Country and British farmhouse cheeses, incredible artisan breads, pastries and pies, luxury local wines, craft beers and much more! As well as rearing our own herd of native Ruby Red Devon cattle, we work with a community of trusted local families who farm in harmony with nature to the highest welfare standards. Once hand selected, our master butchers, Phillip and Alastair, use traditional butchery methods and incredible skill to ensure we use the whole animal, from nose-to-tail. It’s not just about the food, though!

For great ideas and inspiration for the home we have the iconic specialist retailers, Fired Earth, AGA and Orange Tree, along with all the gear to explore the great outdoors from Cotswold and RSPB. Relax your body and mind with a massage from the treatment loft or a new hair-do from Energy hair, and reconnect with nature by visiting the animals, winding your way through the vegetable fields on the farm walk, or wildlife spotting in the bird hide overlooking the wetlands.

If you’re feeling peckish, a visit to the Restaurant is a must. Our brilliant chefs use the food hall as their larder, creating delicious seasonal meals; perhaps a gourmet steak sandwich, an artisan charcuterie platter or a traditional Devonshire cream tea. If you’re just waiting for your Tesla to charge, you can always grab award-winning, fresh fish and chips from The Fish Shed or a delicious Ruby Red Steak Sandwich from The Shack.

What are you most proud of at Darts Farm?

Our fantastic team and loyal, passionate customers!

What challenges have you experienced recently, and how have you overcome them?

Lockdown! It’s been rather crazy and we have had to adapt very quickly in an ever-changing environment. For us, there are two key diversifications that stand out. We started up an online, national delivery retail service which went live within a week, and we launched The Shack, our new outdoor takeaway eatery.

The Shack, along with our front field, was a lifeline to many of our customers during a difficult period where indoor hospitality was closed, allowing them to get out in the fresh Exe Estuary air and connect with the outdoors. Both have been a great success and have changed our overall business model, however we are most excited for The Farm Table restaurant…

What’s next for Darts Farm? Any grand plans in the pipeline?

Finish what we have started in March 2020! During the past year, a lot of the site has been closed, which has allowed us to spend time on things that we would never normally have time to focus on, and the project grew and grew.

We now have a brand-new Nature Trail here on the farm. Complete with insect hotels, very rare bee orchids, woodland areas, bee hives, wild flowers, hedge laying, willow sculptures, outdoor cooking and eating areas and beautiful Estuary views. It’s an area for people to explore, for them to be able to understand the strong connection between farming and nature. An area where people can sit, socialise and cook on open fires; it’s about taking us back to our primal years. It also isn’t long until our new Hen House will also be opening, where you can pick and purchase your very own chickens!

For us, sustainably produced food is definitely at the top of the list and what’s more sustainable that producing your own eggs? Also, as part of the Nature Trail we have planted a heritage apple orchard with the help of Barny Butterfield, founder of Sandford Orchards.

With 40 of our favourite Devon varieties, it is a way for us to be able to pass on traditional varieties, flavours and heritage and give something that will bring memories to new generations.

We have a rich farming history here at Darts, and our job is to ensure it is enjoyed by the future generations to come. We can’t wait until we turn the fruits from the trees into amazing, unique small batch cider in our new Cidery. The orchard will also become a key part of our new restaurant, The Farm Table, where we you can enjoy home grown and locally reared meat, cooked on charcoal-fired ovens; fresh sourdough pizzas cooked in a beautiful woodfired oven; artisan charcuterie and farmhouse cheese tasting platters; plus unique ciders and beers and world class wine and spirits as well as the fresh, locally caught, grilled fish from the Fish Shed that we are already famous for!

Oh, and we will also be a bean-to-bar chocolatier along with our own ice cream, both of which will be crafted here on-site using the best ingredients including milk from our local dairy, Sutton Lucy and cacao beans sourced from small-scale growers in the world’s best regions! Exciting things to come. And then who knows, hopefully there will be many more exciting projects!

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