Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton has won an international award for its green initiatives with judges being particularly impressed with its innovative Veg Exchange.
But ever since it was established in 2015, co-owner Victoria Robertshaw said its ethos has always been not only about food shopping but doing good at the same time.
She said it may be her Yorkshire roots which has given her such a focus on food usage, growing up on the family farm in Thornton, near Bradford where ‘they didn’t like waste’. From the start Victoria was looking at ways to make shopping an experience which catered for what people needed rather than encouraging them to buy excessive amounts.
“There is so much effort that goes into producing and growing it, wasting produce just doesn’t seem right,” she said.
The Veg Exchange is where people can bring their excess fruit and veg which is then ‘exchanged’ for produce in the farm shop.
“I had an idea, I’m not sure where it came from, but it was the person in the pub who couldn’t get rid of all his cabbages. Anyone who grows produce knows you get a glut and you can’t give it all away so what do you do to stop it going to waste?
“We have people producing such great stuff and there is more and more urban farming, people growing for their own consumption but having a lot left over. So I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if people could buy it’.”
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So the Veg Exchange began. People who want to give produce set up an account and checks are made to make sure there were no pesticides used in growing and that they are genuinely home producers.
When their produce is sold, they earn credits on their account which can then be used against food they buy in the shop.
“People were surprised at first,” Victoria said. “ But the word spread and we have had some really unusual varieties of fruit and veg brought in. The lovely thing as well is it is all seasonal produce.”
This re-use and only buying what is needed is an ethos which runs through the shop. Herbs are sold pick and mix so if you only need a sprig you can buy a sprig.
“We sell everything as a single item, so you don’t have bags of stuff going off in the fridge,” Victoria explained.
“You can buy one apple, one sausage etc. It not only cuts down on waste but also makes it affordable. And we never do multi-buy promotions on fresh food.”
This is a different approach from many retailers who use the multi-buy offers to drive up sales but Victoria said she believes business should be done in a positive way and influenced by what is good for the environment and the community.
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“Very early on I was at a local event which had representatives from both third sector charities and businesses. The two were put in separate rooms but we should have been together business and community should all work alongside each other.”
It as a community event which set Keelham on its way to winning the International Green Champion Award for Retail at the Green Apple Awards.
Craven Council, which Victoria describes as ‘forward thinking’ held the Craven Green Apple Awards for the first time this year. Winners would then automatically qualify for the main awards.
Keelham’s Gold Award put them through to the event held at the Houses of Parliament.
“It was such a surprise,” Victoria said. When they arrived at the event there was no list of awards so Victoria said they were not sure which category they were in and the room was full of some very big business names.
“It was getting near the end when we were announced as International Champion in the Retail Sector. It was incredible. We are a small company and we had won the overall award. It is such a fantastic accolade.”
The Green Apple Awards are independently judged and the Veg Exchange was picked out specifically, described by the judges as ‘genius’.
Victoria said they share the award with all the gardeners who have brought in their extra gooseberries, currents, courgettes and runner beans over the years.
Looking to the future Victoria said there is still plenty to do at Keelham. They are currently working through the butchery department looking at packaging and better ways to recycle.
“It is a real challenge knowing can and cannot be recycled. It is our job to make it easy for our customers. We want to be able to say ‘don’t worry’ you can recycle or compost anything you buy from here.
“We have loads of things to do and it is always on our agenda, looking for new ways to combat food waste, support the local economy and help our customers be mrore eco-friendly.”