We went on the hunt for the UK's best independent rural retailers...
Gone are the days when a farm shop was just a makeshift shed selling own-reared meat and local veg. Today, following the lead of pioneers such as Daylesford and Ludlow, they have become destinations, offering a wide variety of artisan stock, as well as restaurants, on-site producers, cookery schools, PYOs – even art galleries. Clare Hargreaves chooses her top 10.
1. North Wales
Bodnant Welsh Food, Furnace Farm, Conwy
Set up on similar lines to Ludlow, one of the best features of Bodnant is that you can watch artisan producers crafting the foods that you then buy in the shop, or eat in the courtyard café or Hayloft restaurant. In the dairy, Aled Rowlands uses the farm’s milk to make Aberwen, a deliciously dense crumbly cheese made to an ancient recipe. Ice cream and speciality bread are also produced on site, plus Furnace Farm’s own Welsh lamb. There’s a cookery school upstairs, and B&B accommodation, so you can make a weekend of your visit.
Darts Farm, Topsham
Started by Ronald Dart nearly 40 years ago as a hut selling vegetables, Darts Farm is now run by his three sons and has become known as one of the stars of the south-west, grouping several businesses under one roof to provide everything you need. There’s an on-site butcher (selling the farm’s Red Ruby beef), a fishmonger, a baker, a deli, a cider maker and a café-restaurant. In addition, there are animals and a Maize maze for the kids, fishing ponds (£6 per day), a bird hide, a PYO for fruit and veg, and treatment rooms, plus a pilates studio.
Welbeck’s School of Artisan Food has gained a deserved reputation for its courses, but there’s a whole lot more, from the Harley Gallery (displaying and selling British modern art and crafts) to a chocolaterie; garden centre; and a farm shop stocking lamb, game and cheese from the Welbeck Estate and breads from its own wood-fired bakery. The shop was voted Own & Local Farm Retailer of the Year in this year’s FARMA awards. Welbeck’s Limehouse Café is reason alone to visit – order a burger made with the Stichelton blue cheese made on the estate. At teatime, try the famous Chocolate Guinness cake. Walk it all off with a hike along one of the Estate’s signed trails.
4. East Sussex
Middle Farm, Lewes
With animals all around, you really experience being on a farm. You can buy home-reared beef, pork and lamb, 20 types of homemade sausage, and local cheeses such as Sussex Slipcote and Flower Marie in the farm shop. Meanwhile, the children can watch pedigree Jersey cows being milked, visit the rare breed chickens or take part in organised activities. Middle Farm also houses the National Collection of Cider & Perry – which, happily, you can taste before you buy.
5. West Wales
This laidback place, based in a converted pub in deepest Carmarthenshire, is not attached to a farm, so calls itself a food emporium rather than a farm shop. It’s as famous for its café as for its shop – and also for its sense of fun, thanks to the irrepressible enthusiasm of owner Simon Wright. ‘A lot of what’s for sale on the shelves is also on the menu,’ he says. Try or buy the homemade Wright’s Catsup (tomato sauce), stock up in the wine room, and sample local artisan delicacies such as Cnwd’s smoked Carmarthenshire sewin (sea trout) and charcuterie from Illtud Llyr Dunsford. Café open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Follow one of Apley Estate’s nature trails before lunching in the Creamery Café, housed in the spectacular barn that used to house the creamery. Daily specials use the farm’s own meats, while the handmade beefburger includes locally cured bacon and Shropshire Blue cheese. The shop stocks homereared meats, vegetables grown in the restored walled garden, cheeses including Mr Moydens Ironbridge Blue, and other good local produce. There’s a play barn and animal park for the kids, and a shop selling skincare products using plants from the garden. You can even stay in one of the estate’s holiday cottages, on the banks of the River Severn.
7. County Durham
Cross Lanes Organic Farm, Barnard Castle
Cross Lanes, a finalist in the 2012 BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards, has green principles at the heart of everything it does. It even has a ‘living roof’ planted with grass grazed by Hebridean sheep and a heather-thatched composting toilet. In the shop, buy own rare-breed pork and grass-fed shorthorn beef, home-baked breads and over 50 cheeses. Vegetables come from the Clervaux Trust in Darlington, although some herbs and salads are grown in Cross Lanes’ greenhouse. Round off your visit with a stone-baked pizza in the organic café-restaurant with its lovely views of the Teesdale countryside.
Whitmuir, Lamancha, West Linton
This 140-acre organic farm, 16 miles south of Edinburgh, has a shop, butchery and caférestaurant (open Saturday nights for dinner). It also runs a veg-box scheme and hosts a community bakery, an art gallery – and even a biochar research project (producing biochar, a kind of charcoal, from woody waste and testing it on purpose-built allotments to see if it helps improve crop productivity). The farm produces lamb, beef, chicken and turkey, and also grows much of its own veg and soft fruit. There are marked trails to follow, too. An inspiring set-up.
Newlyns Farm Shop, Hook
Another farm that goes the extra mile. It stocks the 500-acre farm’s own beef, pork and lamb and an impressive range of homemade ready meals, such as Lasagne and Beef Bourguignon, which use up every bit of the carcasses. There’s a good café too – try the Piggy Platter of Newlyn Farm’s own sweet-cured ham, Scotch egg, ham hock terrine and pork pie. Upstairs, there’s a beautiful cookery school running day and evening classes, including the popular ‘Butcher it, Cook it, Eat it’ course. Newlyns has recently opened a second shop at Weyhill near Andover.
Pink Pig Farm, Holne, Scunthorpe
Children will love the porky pleasures at this farm, a finalist in the 2011 BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. There’s a Farm Park where children can view and, in some cases, hold the animals. To eat, there’s a choice between the Oink Café and the restaurant. In the farm shop, stock up on home-reared pork and lamb and homemade sausages. Other local goodies include Lincolnshire Poacher and Cote Hill cheeses, and Lincolnshire plum loaf.
What's your favourite local farm shop? We'd love to hear your suggestions...