|Do you buy from the farm shops?|
they do not become part of me.
But when I eat a slice of ham it does.
That’s why I spend money on food.”
Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food
So, what is a farm shop? It’s obviously not a supermarket. Nor is it a butchery where cuts and joints of meat are bought in and resold after refining and processing. A farm shop is associated with a farm and logically sells the produce of that farm. That’s straightforward then.
Except of course when a butchery decides to jump on the bandwagon and call their new enterprise a farm shop even though there is no connection with a farm, so we’ll ignore that one for now!
There are two real farm shops in the area around Cirencester competing with a huge number of supermarkets, convenience stores and specialist butchers and greengrocers. This means that you, the consumer, have a wide choice of produce based on price, quality and variety.
Most choose to go to the supermarkets for convenience and cheapness. When it’s cheap and convenient, it’s unlikely to be high quality. Take meat. We all love to think of farm animals enjoying the good life with space and freedom, companionship and warm shelter; the sort of thing you see week in, week out on BBC 1’s Countryfile. But I’m afraid you’re deluding yourself if you think this is the environment supermarkets source from. Their suppliers are mainly large scale, super-efficient, industrial type units that farm intensively – they are the only sort that can survive the meagre prices paid by their supersize customers.
Convenience stores source from the same well. They are supplied by huge wholesalers – the largest just having been taken over by Tesco – so you shouldn’t expect much difference there.
Some butchers will try and differentiate themselves by buying locally but most will just source whatever their wholesalers offer so that then brings us to the two specialist farm shops.
Abbey Home Farm Shop and The Butts Farm Shop both sell their own produce. The former is an organic farm and you can see their stock in the surrounding fields. The Butts Farm specialises in native rare breeds and their conservation and is open to the public throughout the summer months.
Judy Hancox runs both The Butts Farm and the farm shop. She is passionate about everything associated with the farm but especially the animals. Whenever a visitor expresses concern that the lambs they have just bottle fed will end up on the butcher’s slab, she responds immediately that she is much happier cooking and eating something she knows has had a good life from birth rather than an anonymous piece of meat with no provenance and probably no quality of life from the mass market. If an animal is kept for meat, we owe it to that animal to eat every part of it and not waste an ounce of it. Thus stock from the farm goes to a local abattoir and is delivered back as a carcase and then carefully butchered. Those parts that are not sold as fresh or cured meats are converted into sausages, burgers, pies etc., all of the highest quality. Food miles are as low as they could ever be.
Of course you will pay more for the experience. Buying produce from a supermarket is like buying the cheapest, most basic east European car that smokes and rattles and shakes as it plods along. Going to one of the two genuine farm shops is opening you up to the sleekest, fastest Italian supercars. But it’s not just for the ultra-rich – the price difference isn’t that great. Wouldn’t you rather pay a bit more, see openly how the animals are kept, how comfortable they are, how naturally they live with their cohorts – than save a few pounds buying anonymous produce, not always from this country – or continent even! – whose likely miserable existence is hidden away so that no one can know how they were produced?