MORE THAN half of new businesses do not survive after their first five years, but a North Yorkshire farm shop which started from charitable beginnings has more than bucked that trend.
Despite the gloomy outlook outlined recently by British commercial insurer RSA, Bert’s Barrow is one small commercial operation that has continued to hold its own - even though more and more farm shops have opened across the region since it started some 15 years ago.
The brainchild of Ian (Bert) Thompson and his wife Marlene, the venture was originally launched in Hillam near Selby as a way to raise funds for a defibrillator for the village.
The business started life in humble form - as an old wheelbarrow that was dressed with local produce and left at the front of the family farm with an honesty box for passing trade.
The couple’s son, Jason Thompson explained: “Over the years more and more people stopped by Bert’s Barrow and Mum and Dad continued to source produce from as near to them as possible.
“Sadly, two years ago Dad died. This made it very difficult for Mum to carry on by herself in the business that they had built together. We couldn’t let the legacy of Bert’s Barrow pass away with him, so me and my wife, Charlotte Wells-Thompson, stepped forward take on the baton in March last year.
“We gradually built up our delivery rounds, taking fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables to people across an ever-expanding area as well as encouraging visitors to call by and choose their own selections.”
Charlotte added: “By November, we were in a position to open up a barn to create a farm shop and added marmalades, jams, chutneys, cheese, bread, milk and local honey to our fruit and vegetable offering.”
Thanks to the tenacity and vision of Charlotte, it is now a thriving farm shop with a vegetable box scheme and is a hub for local producers, including The Real Catch which suppliers fresh fish every Wednesday and Guild of Q butchers, C & G Starkey from Sherburn-in-Elmet.
Local farming families benefit from having another outlet for their products. Spring onions, cabbage and strawberries come from a farm five miles away in Ryther, while leeks, savoy and white cabbage, tomatoes, beans, sprouts, pumpkins and iceberg lettuce come from a farmer six miles away in Carwood.
Honey is supplied from an apiary in Monk Fryston and various vegetables are also supplied from eight miles away in Wistow - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, leeks, courgettes and sprouts.
Goole-based arable farmer Guy Poskitt provides carrots, parsnips, swede and potatoes.
Charlotte says she has lots of ideas for growing the business, not least by adding new attractions to draw customers to their shop in Hillam.
“We have so many plans to build on the success of the business and we are delighted to reveal that we now have planning permission to develop a full butcher’s shop, bakery and tea room,” Charlotte said.
“However, we are doing everything in carefully planned stages so that work will not commence until next year.”
At Easter, Bert’s Barrow became a stockist for award-winning Yorvale ice cream, a range which includes the new Sea Salted Caramel flavour.
“Yorvale ticks all the boxes for us,” said Charlotte. “It’s a local, family-owned, farm-based business that makes delicious ice cream from all natural ingredients and it’s selling really well.
“We are passionate about sourcing local produce and collect from the local growers farms, usually out of the field.
“We are rearing our own lamb this year as well as free range eggs, and have a small selection of strawberries, raspberries, gooseberry, redcurrants, plums and apples. We will be also be growing vegetables in the future.”
For more information about Bert’s Barrow, visit www.bertsbarrow.co.uk