We live in a society where food and farming are treated as two separate breeds, species, planets almost. We know full well it’s not the case, however with the passing of time, a rift has developed and there’s a risk it will widen.
Such chasms allow erroneous events to occur, which they do: horsemeat-gate, dyed pork in Sweden, an obesity epidemic, school meal travesties I’m leaving space so I can add to the list when the next issues arises. Which it inevitably will.
Thankfully there are good guys in a story otherwise one of despair – I’m on a mission to find them and once I do, tell their stories. Dotted around our fair isles are individuals and organisations engaging in the fight to ensure that we have an educated public, understanding consumers and children who aren’t ignorant to the world around them.
I started close to home and went five miles north of York to visit the Farmer’s Cart. Established in response to poor pig prices, Geoff and Margaret Sykes run a one hundred and fifty two acre farm, farm shop and café. What struck me most about their business was their decision twelve years ago – not to diversify in an effort to support an ailing farm but to realign the business completely.
Nowadays the farmshop is at the centre of their food business, which itself housed inside a beautiful barn-style building. As they arrive, customers pass fields packed with some of the fifty varieties of fruit and vegetables grown on the farm. Not to mention pens full of foraging chickens and pigs. But only after the farm has had the chance to delighted each and every sense, will you get to the food.
A well grounded operation
I was welcomed by Lottie Riley, the operations manager who manages the day-to-day running of The Farmer’s Cart. Not many farms have an operations manager but it’s what it takes to maintain a business that stays true to its roots. Lottie told me how they achieve it, or as she said to me beforehand, keep it real!
In the fields adjacent to the farm and the shop and café is the Piglets Adventure Farm Park, a riot of colour and fun that combines education and learning with adventure and excitement. In fact whilst I was there a school trip of ninety (thats right nine-zero not one-nine) children had arrived and were being ferried around the farm on an interactive tractor and trailer ride.
As they sailed around the farm busily waving to anything and anyone it was evident capturing our attention at a young age is key if, as a society, we are to learn where our food comes from. It’s a challenge that the Farmer’s Cart readily undertakes and a story that schools and children relish to be engaged with. That said however, you can teach old dogs new tricks and as a result of the horsemeat scandal we’re keen to be taught…
The foodie in-crowd
At the heart of the farm, both physically and ethically, is the farm shop and café. From local speciality beers to traditional vegetables – with jars of awesome chutneys and jams in-between, thankfully local consumers haven’t allowed this gem to be kept secret. The farmshop is brimming with produce either grown on the farm or sourced from local suppliers. Locality is the premier foodie buzzword these days but the Farmer’s Cart are aware that to provide a valued resource they equally have to offer diversity, even if that means looking a little further afield.
Wherever you find yourself at the Farmer’s Cart education won’t be far away and it’s not solely confined to children. In one of the trays of vegetables was a handwritten sign “Whoopsy” and alongside were vegetables that weren’t going to find themselves at the top of the supermarket pile. However, contrary to what supermarkets would like us to believe they were still perfectly useful for stews and soups. Lottie explained to me that honesty was key and if their customers knew what was on offer and why it was, as it was, then they happily bought and engaged with different products.
Picking up on the mention of horsemeat-gate earlier in our conversation and the issue of education, I was interested to know how people reacted to being educated about meat, its production and where it comes from – not only geographically but also on the animal itself.
An experience it certainly is and a good one at that. For all ages, the Farmer’s Cart has something to offer: whether it’s an adventurous and educational day for children or a moment of retail pleasure and education for adults you can’t leave and not feel better off.
For in this little square of North Yorkshire, food and farming are at one and you are too.