Booming farm shop business grows out of a declining dairy herd

It’s early January in Hutton Cranswick, the village that came about when Hutton and Cranswick merged many years ago, and inside the aptly named The Farm Shop at Cranswick the café is heaving and the shop is enjoying a roaring trade.

Today’s large, airy, farm shop and café, built further back from the main Beverley-Driffield road, that opened in 2016 and champions all things East Riding is one of Yorkshire’s largely unsung food heroes.

Helen Stones is managing director of The Farm Shop in Cranswick, daughter of ex-dairy farmer Adrian Fry who, along with his wife are also partners in the business.

“We’re not a gifty farm shop,” says Helen. “We’re very much your every day, come and get what you need shop with things that make a real difference like our own bakery and our made-to-order sandwich bar that brings customers from miles around.

Helen Stones with her father Adrian Fry in the Farm Shop at Cranswick. The background shows historic family photos from left: Helen's Grandmother Mary Allison on the milk round business in 1939, Frank Allison in 1939, Adrian Fry on the farm in 1974 and The Althorpe Dairy Herd.

“I always wanted a café, as we’d always had a big demand for sandwiches, and we are now stacked out most days.

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Staff behind the counter ready to meet customers

“Both sides of the business – the shop and the café are growing fast since we moved into these far larger premises.

“Whenever anyone comes in, they say ‘Wow!’ as no-one really expects it to be as big as it is.

“We’re not too fancy with our meals either as our customers want good, honest food. Everything we offer is homemade, such as steak pies and cakes.

“Our cooks are good local people all from around here who know what people like. We stock fantastic beef from the Givendale herd of Stabiliser cattle that many restaurants in the area are now serving having first tried it with us.”

This is all light years away from when Adrian and his family were under so much pressure financially, due to no fault of their own in the early part of the millennium.

“Manor Farm had been home to a dairy farming operation for decades, Adrian had increased the size of the herd, taken the farm in a different direction by becoming a producer-processor and together with a little wooden shack housing the original Manor Farm Shop in 1989 they had made things pay.

“When I came to work here 60 years ago it was a dairy farm with around two dozen pedigree Friesian milking cows,” says Adrian. “It was my father-in-law Frank Allison’s. I married his daughter Christine in 1966.

We went to school together. Frank had the opportunity to buy the farm four years later and I went into partnership with him, his wife and Christine.

“When my in-laws passed away it was just us two.

“In the 80s I looked at what we had, got rid of the few pigs and sheep we also had and doubled up the cow numbers. We put up a new cow building and carried on increasing numbers and ended up with around 95 milkers.”

It was around 1988-89 that Adrian took another look and decided on the next move.

“They say you should pick your best bits out and for me this main road was always an asset. Some folks farming would look at it as just a pain in the backside constantly trying to get things in and out of the farm, but it’s a busy road.

“I thought we were better off selling milk straight to the customer, we were slap bang on the main road, easy for people to see. So we went into milk processing.

“We put in a pasteuriser, bottled the milk and sold it in our little wooden shed that became Manor Farm Shop. Helen was 16 when we opened it and went to Bishop Burton College to study Rural Business & Tourism.

“I didn’t want to be a chef, but I knew I wanted to be in food,” says Helen.

“We sold our own milk and local produce from other farms like eggs, potatoes, fruit, vegetables and we started making sandwiches.”

“The crunch came,” says Adrian. “When we lost a significant amount of cattle from 2002-2006 with BVD (bovine viral diarrhoea).

“It caused us a great deal of heartache and we came out of dairying completely in 2006. We had no other choice. We doubled the size of our shop in 2008.”

In the following years the decision was made to close down the family’s farming business of CM & AG Fry & Son, that had by then included Adrian’s son, Jonathan, and set up a new company that today sees Adrian, his wife and Helen as partners in the farm shop; and sees Jonathan with a bed and breakfast pig enterprise from Manor Farm.

“It doesn’t matter what you own,” says Helen. “You always have to look first at those that offer plus points and the road outside has always been our biggest asset.

“If we were going to get bigger it was always going to be through what we are doing now with the farm shop and the café.

“We now sell 8,000 sausage rolls every month.”

The Farm Shop in Cranswick is now arguably one of this thriving village’s leading employers with a team of 45 full and part-time employees.

It benefits not just from its location on the main road between Beverley and Driffield but also because of the bustling light industrial and business premises located on what used to be an RAF base nearby.

“We are proud of East Yorkshire,” says Helen.

“Around 75 per cent of what we sell is from the East Riding and 90 per cent from Yorkshire. Our milk is from Pete Burdass’ St Quinton’s Creamery in Harpham and we sell Mr Moo’s Ice Cream from Skipsea, so we’ve kept our dairy roots too.

“We are still very much a family business.

“I couldn’t do this without the fantastic support I receive from my husband Richard who is always helping out with anything that needs doing; and our son Josh and daughter Millie. It’s a team effort.”

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