Farm Shops or Shops on a Farm?

Following on the theme from last week about local food and sense of place,  my eye was caught over the weekend by an article in Scotland on Sunday. The article (the online version can be found here) was entitled “Farm shops reap dividends as demand for local produce grows” with a sub-heading of “Survey aims to put a value on lucrative rural initiatives”.

So this is great news? Right?

Well, it is certainly better news than most of the things that are going on in retail at this time. The news that the Scottish Government is, together with the Scottish Agricultural College, going to “launch a survey” to find out how many farm shops operate in Scotland and to put a value on the size of the market, is also very welcome. This is, together with farmers’ markets, an expanding yet under-recognized sector. FARMA (the National Farmers’ Retail and Markets Association) says that farm shops are opening at their fastest rate ever.

Now, I love farm shops and am a regular attendee at farmers’ markets. I find them to be interesting, informed and often with very good products. I worry occasionally that they tend to broaden away from their roots, once some success has been generated, and can, if not careful, become a haven for odd crafts and other things, that have little to do with farm shops and often don’t have that sense of place I crave.

I also am concerned a little about what we should expect from farm shops, or indeed, in the light of this upcoming survey, what exactly is a farm shop, as opposed to a shop on a farm – a distinction we were forced to draw when judging this category for Forth Valley Food Links a few years ago.

The article in Scotland on Sunday is based around the Adross farm shop near Elie, in Fife. It sounds great and I wish them every success – “set up to sell Adross’s products and to give other local farmers a boost … selling lamb, pork and venison from other farms, as well as cooking their own steak pies and making burgers”. The epitome of local, traceable food, connecting consumers with farmers. What’s not to like?

So why am I giving only two cheers? Well, the photograph of the owners that adorns the paper version of the article (it is not online) has eight products that can be identified from labels in the picture. They are:

English leeks, English shallots, English onions, English purple top turnips, English peas, Garlic from the Isle of Wight, English white cabbage and red onions from Egypt.

Now my Fife friends tell me that the Kingdom is the centre of the world, but do these products belong in a farm shop there (given what is grown in Fife and Scotland) or do they represent this trend to shops on a farm? Does it matter? If the core of the range is from the local area then should we forgive such buy-ins to complete the consumer offer? After all we want to sell our Scottish lamb, raspberries etc outside Scotland as well.

Well, I do think it matters, as we need to make the most of what we produce in Scotland. We need to connect consumers to farms, farmers and their produce; going to a farm shop to buy Egyptian onions strikes me as a step in the wrong direction. I am all for farmers adding to their income, creating jobs and income in the local area, but can we build in a real sense of place and location at the same time?

I look forward to the survey results and finding out how many farm shops etc there are in Scotland and seeing an up to date map and guide to get more people to visit them. I’d just like to be sure they all are farm shops and not simply shops on a farm!

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
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