Hillam farm shop and champions of Yorkshire produce, Bert's Barrow has doubled in size as it re-opens

Enthusiasm is never in short supply at the award-winning Bert’s Barrow farm shop.

Charlotte Wells-Thompson, and Jason Thompson, with their eight-year-old daughters Hattie and Tilly Wells-Thompson.

Husband and wife farmers and shop owners, Charlotte and Jason have recently doubled the shop size at the outlet on Austfield Farm in Hillam, near Monk Fryston, as well as increasing their product lines in response to the recent growth in shopping local.

“We have kept a lot of the new customers who found us during lockdown,” said Charlotte Wells Thompson.

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“And now it’s very important for us and all farm shops, local village shops and producers that we find ways of keeping the goodwill and good feeling we’ve had from everyone in these past months.

Charlotte Wells Thompson and Jason Thompson in the expanded farm shop

“The support we have received has meant so much, but we’d like to keep it at those levels and build on it.”

At the beginning of lockdown, realising they could not keep the farm shop open the innovative couple were the first to turn their business into a secure drive-thru.

But Jason Thompson said they knew when they were to re-open the shop, following the success of the drive-thru, they would need to make it easier for customers to get around.

“With the help of people who worked with us during lockdown we took out what was the timber back wall of the farm shop, extending it further into the barn, repainted the shop and we have invested in a much larger refrigerator.”

Charlotte Wells Thompson and Jason Thompson in their event venue

“It is now far busier in the shop than it was before lockdown,” said Charlotte.

“But with people returning to supermarkets we need to find ways of keeping that extra trade we have gained, as well as building on it by making buying local trendy.

“I’m pushing a click and collect ordering system and we are bringing in more of what our customers want, such as Yorkshire brewed beers like Wold Top and craft beers from Black Dog Brewery at Carlton Towers.

“We are working closely with them and God’s Own Rum in South Milford, supplying strawberries as infusions for both the beer and rum.

“We are now stocking produce from more than 100 local Yorkshire producers, including Yorkshire Pasta from Malton.

“People are obviously noticing what we are trying to do as we’ve recently been shortlisted in this year’s White Rose Awards for ethical, responsible and sustainable tourism and in the producers and makers class.”

Future plans of putting in a café/tearoom are on hold at the moment due to cost, but Charlotte and Jason have added a bar in the barn that is open during shop hours on a Saturday and Sunday and from noon until 7pm on a Friday evening when they host a pizza night.

“I’d love to have a café or tearoom,” said Charlotte.

“But there are huge costs involved with the building of a kitchen and inclusion of a septic tank that would currently wipe us out. We are doing all we can to give people a happy experience when they come here and we’ve found that the best way of doing that so far has been working with others such as our local pizza couple David and Victoria of Knead ’n’ Feed on a Friday evening and with Alice of Home Grown Hospitality who comes in and supplies breakfasts on a Sunday morning. They both use produce from Yorkshire butchers – Lishmans and Sykes House Farm.

“It’s about making Bert’s a real destination experience.

“Our drive-thru was a brilliant success, which has since led to the shop expansion and even greater community and small producers’ spirit that has seen us massively increase trade for everyone involved.”

But it has not come without a great deal of pain at times. At the time of lockdown the couple had just launched their new wedding and special occasions venue.

“To lose that trade and basically have the whole year wiped out when that’s the part that makes this whole thing work was terrifying. When it looked as though we couldn’t even supply carrots one day, I thought we were going down,” said Charlotte.

“I stood with Jason and Charlotte Knox, our only full-time employee. I could have cried. All of the weddings had cancelled and now we couldn’t even get carrots! I didn’t know whether I’d have to furlough Charlotte. It was awful and frightening.”

Fortunately, Yorkshire carrot producer Guy Poskitt was able to came to their rescue and he also provided the boxes they desperately needed.

Austfield Farm is also a working farm of 50 acres where Charlotte and Jason grow their own strawberries, pumpkins and more lately Christmas trees. This year they have invested in a polytunnel following the crop of pumpkins being attacked by crows last year.

Jason said he has planted 13,500 this year which should be ready for Hallowe’en.

They also had some unusual help last year from local falconer, Kira Weston.

“When Kira found out our problem with the crows she told us we wouldn’t have that problem again and brought her Harris Hawk, Geoff,” Jason said.

“She now brings him regularly and the crows do a handbrake turn away from here when they see him.

“It has helped considerably and Kira now runs experience days here.”

Jason said he has also planted 500 Christmas trees this year, to add to the Yorkshire grown trees they already sell.

“My aim is to plant 500 every year from now on. Our first harvest of those planted this year should be in around six years’ time.”

Charlotte and Jason said they are constantly aware of keeping up with the game in all areas of the farm shop and local attractions world.

They said they have been delighted with the response from local people in buying local and they are determined to do all they can to keep their foot on the accelerator.

“Making buying local trendy is what it’s all about,” said Charlotte.