Charlotte Wells Thompson and Jason Thompson, who own Bert’s Barrow Farm Shop in Hillam, North Yorkshire found themselves overwhelmed by online orders as people rushed to order veg, fruit and daily essentials.
“We have been inundated with orders, we got 300 orders over just four days and we don’t have the infrastructure to keep up with that number of deliveries,” Mrs Wells Thompson said.
“It was also getting unsafe for people to be in the shop as we had too many customers to social distance effectively.”
The couple also knew they needed to keep the shop going and look after their staff but were faced with the daunting dilemma of how to do it.
“The most important thing was making sure people could get food and stay safe. Then Jason came up with the idea of making it a drive-thru,” Mrs Wells Thompson said.
“We have the barn where we are just beginning to build up a wedding business but with everything cancelled we thought it would be a good place to set up a production line of veg and fruit boxes and people could pull up in front of it.”
The team at Bert’s, which includes the couple’s twin girls Hattie and Tilly, set about transforming the barn into a one-stop scaled back farm shop.
A video was posted online to explain what would be happening and to demonstrate how the drive-thru farm shop would work.
“Customers can only visit by car,” Mr Thompson said.
“No-one is allowed on the farm on foot, we need to keep people safe.”
Customers drive in with the windows wound up, keeping them isolated. They stop outside the barn where a large board shows what is on offer and the price. One of the team points to items on the list, the customer selects what they want and when the order is complete, contactless payment is taken – it works through the glass in the car window – and the produce is put into the boot, using protective measures to open and close it, before the customer drives away.
“We have worked it out so the customer stays isolated and people who are vulnerable can still come and get the food they need. While our team, who have been amazing, are kept safe,” Mrs Wells Thompson said.
This innovative idea has meant not only can the farm shop fulfil customers needs but it can carry on stocking produce from the local suppliers they champion. “By keeping the farm shop running, we can keep buying from our suppliers who are also small businesses and so it is helping them get through this difficult time as well. We are so passionate about Yorkshire produce and local food,” Mrs Wells Thompson, former winner of the Yorkshire Food Hero Award, said.
Among the produce on offer in the drive-thru farm shop is meat from local farmers including Anna’s Happy Trotters in Howden, bread from family run Crusty’s bakery in South Milford, veg from Westwoods in Wakefield and milk from Dales Dairy in Grassington. There is also flour from Castleford Mill which is run by volunteers.
“We have scaled down what we would normally carry in the shop but demand is really high. We are currently selling 120 packs of sausages a day, normally it would be around 20 a week.
A team of volunteers are also helping the team pack the 300 boxes of seasonal veg being sold a day.
“We have potatoes from Womersley, Yorkshire parsnips, forced rhubarb and asparagus, all supporting local growers.”
Around 180 boxes are stocked ready for morning opening with the drive-thru operating Monday 12pm-4pm with 5pm-7pm set aside for NHS and key workers; 9am-4pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Thursday 9am-4pm with key workers 5pm-7pm, closing Sunday to allow for turnaround.
Mrs Wells Thompson said it had been a stressful time particularly when they had to cancel the weddings which were just getting started. “It was heartbreaking, the pressure has been huge, we have diversified to survive and now we need to do it again.”
But, she said people have been fantastic and they want to support them as well as the key workers who are fighting Covid-19 on the frontline. “These workers are looking out for us and we are looking out for them.”
As well as ensuring there is enough put by in the shop, the team at Bert’s also sent a fruit hamper, including some Masons Yorkshire Gin, to staff at St James’s Hospital in Leeds receiving a response from one proud mum who said the gift had really lifted staff spirits.
A go fund me page has been set up to send more hampers to frontline NHS wards which has already raised more than half its £1,000 target.