The 'shop window' for Yorkshire produce which was born out of the foot-and-mouth crisis

The foot-and-mouth crisis which ravaged the countryside two decades ago also led to the foundation of a new ‘shop window’ for Yorkshire’s farmers.

The sedum roof being put in place on the new Fodder building by Heather Parry and Stuart Falshaw MD of contruction company Houseman and Falshaw.

Fodder Farm Shop and Cafe has become an integral part of the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate and stocks produce from more than 400 farmers and producers.

It is also the only charitable food hall in the country with all the profits going back into farming through the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.

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But it was born out of one of the darkest times in British farming when more than six million animals were culled and businesses were taken to the brink.

“Foot and mouth was an eerie time, terrifying and quiet,” said Fodder MD and YAS deputy chief executive, Heather Parry.

“Farmers were ringing the Society in floods of tears and our hearts went out to all of them.

“People were unable to go to the countryside and it was a terrible time.”

Heather said the crisis also made the Society look at how they could help the industry rebuild.

“We thought ‘how can we help, how can we bring people together?” Heather said it was similar to the current Covid pandemic in that businesses had to work out how to survive the crisis first of all and then how to adapt and rebuild.

Knowing the food hall had always been one of the most popular elements of the Great Yorkshire Show and also that a lot of small producers did not have an outlet like a farm shop, the idea was to create a showcase for local produce.

“We wanted to find a way to celebrate the fantastic food and drink we had in the county and come up with a long-term sustainable plan which would help farmers in Yorkshire.

As well as a farm shop, the Society wanted to create a ‘hub’ where they could be on the showground site all year round and provide office space for rural organisations and not-for-profits.

It took around seven years to get the new Regional Agricultural Centre and Fodder constructed and right from the beginning the farm shop and cafe were all about sustainability and ‘giving back’.

The building itself is designed to be eco friendly, using a timber structure, living sedum roof, loo doors made from recycled plastic bottles and walls lined with sheep wool insulation. “We wanted the building to be sustainable long term and using sheep wool insulation is helping support our sheep farmers as well.

But Heather said, the one thing people want to see the most are the loo doors. Once the building was ready, farmers and producers were asked to apply to become suppliers.

“We wanted to make sure the quality was high and welfare standards are very important so when we invited people to submit applications to be a supplier I decided to go out and visit each one to see first hand,” Heather said.

“It was fantastic meeting all these brilliant, passionate people.

“The idea of Fodder was really warmly received and I ate my way around Yorkshire.”

For some of the suppliers Fodder is their largest single retail customer which Heather said made the farm shop and cafe crucial to a number of its producers’ long term sustainability.

“We take that responsibility very seriously,” she said.

And its success has also proved a springboard for many.

“Some of our producers have been able to get into other stockists on the back of being in Fodder, which is great,” Heather said.

But she also said it was just as important that it was right for customers.

“We said from the beginning, if we were going to run a shop we needed to run one people could afford to shop in.

“Fodder is our showcase to bring everything together food, customers and farmers. It feels as if Fodder belongs to everyone and that is a good thing.”