Buying fruit and vegetables historically has always been a local enterprise by either the growers having a stall at the end of their properties, or a village shop selling the produce that was in season in a particular area. This for those with gardens and allotments, provided a top up to what they already grew. In towns the greengrocer or weekly market was the only way to obtain local produce.
This began to change in the 1970s when the supermarkets began to appear in towns and cities. You could see the attraction of having everything in one place but this came at a cost. The quantities the supermarkets needed drove the price down but this also had a detrimental effect on quality and the amount the farmers and growers actually received in revenue.
The farm shops waned with the clever marketing and lighting used by the supermarkets, customers were wowed by the impressive displays of fruit and vegetables, together with the butchery displays, and the significant reduction of the weekly shop cost who wouldn’t be? The farm shops declined and many just gave up, the consumer was more mobile, car ownership increased threefold and by the late 1980s very few were to be seen, and what was on offer was just the basics.
In the 1990s customers became more discerning, after the financial slump in the 1980s new businesses were on the increase and improved salaries allowed consumers to seek out a better product. The supermarkets were getting boring, row after row of perfect cabbages, carrots and swedes that had been driven hundreds of miles or worse, had been flown in from abroad, had sowed the seed for something different.
Farmers were becoming disillusioned by the supermarkets needing the perfect product, for every perfect cabbage, three didn’t make the grade. What could you do with a slightly imperfect vegetable? Waste was becoming criminal and eventually the farmers would revisit selling produce on site. I guess the older generation who grew up post war remembered the ease of purchase and didn’t mind a bit of mud on their potatoes, nor a swede that delivers ten portions.
To make them more attractive some added a butchers shop onsite with some locally sourced meat. Some went a bit further and added groceries and specialist goods, cheeses, logs, firewood, spices and most of all local fresh vegetables picked that morning or at worst the day before. Some obtained licences to serve alcohol and brought in craft local beers and wines, all to be just that bit different. This was very reminiscent of the old fashioned village grocers shop such as CA Coombs and son in the village of Ickham, sadly no longer in existence due in part to the cheaper main stream goods found in the big supermarkets. There you would find Wellington boots next to a freezer containing frozen peas, every space utilised for maximum customer exposure.
There are many good quality farm shops in the Garden of England now, each becoming more aware of the needs of the individual discerning customer base. All across Kent they have all developed and changed to follow the consumer needs, delicatessens, on site butchers selling their own meat from the farm, and fruit and vegetables obtained within a five mile radius of their premises.
There are many to choose from so I will select one at random to delve deeper. If you head toward Folkestone from canterbury on the B2068 Stone street and turn left by the Granville pub you will see the Lower Hardres Farm shop set back from the road. They have a large gravelled car park capable of accommodating 20+ cars. This a far cry from the muddy car parks of yesteryear when the trip to the farm shops required the wearing of wellington boots! The welcoming signage as you drive in together with the traditional market barrows displaying vegetable plants and a colourful assortment of perennials, are pleasing to the eye, you are hooked before you get out of the car.
They have a pick your own field on the bank to the side of the shop with fruit trees delivering raspberries tayberries and gooseberries throughout their seasons. The onsite butchery delivers the finest local meat. The contents of the display cabinet are always fresh and pleasing to the eye, it must be hard to go in for a few rashers of bacon and not come out with a ribeye steak, such as the quality and freshness you behold on entering!
There is local milk, cheeses and artisan bread from a local bakery with all the usual products you used to purchase from the local shops. The display of local vegetables and fruit is on a par with the supermarkets but sourced from just down the road.
This particular farm shop mirrors many in the area, the supermarkets are losing their grip on this market, the customer is becoming more discerning and loyal once again. Farm shops were on a decline but due to some ingenious marketing and vision by the owners, have made a resurgence in the last five years. Long may it continue and we should all be reminded that shopping local is good for the rural economy to sustain jobs, and the sense of community people of my generation thought had been lost for ever.