Take yourself off for a trip into the countryside wherever you go in God’s Own Country and you’re likely at some point to fall upon signs for farmhouse bed and breakfast accommodation, caravan and camping site or a farm shop.
The countryside has woken up to tourism in the past thirty years and while there’s still the occasional tatty wooden affair announcing eggs, potatoes and half a lamb available the farm shop genre has largely become far more professional.
What is particularly interesting is how this expanding market sector is developing. Not every farm shop is the same and it is clear that each individual business is dependent on its location, the people it attracts and even more vitally those at the helm.
If you’re on one of the main routes through the Dales, Moors, Wolds or Vales of York and Pickering there are obvious advantages during the main tourist months, but what of those in other areas and slightly off the well beaten track?
Jo and Colin Barnes run The Mile Farm Shop on Colin’s father Kenny’s 10-acre holding just a 15-minute walk from Pocklington town centre going towards Millington, Bishop Wilton and Kilnwick Percy on a stretch of road known simply as The Mile.
It’s a business that started 20 years ago from two small huts selling animal feed, hay and straw in one hut and fruit and vegetables in the other.
Kenny had been a tenant farmer on 200 acres at Yapham with his wife Sheila and with no follow-on tenancy when his father passed away he had wisely purchased land they moved to in 2004.
Today, The Mile Farm Shop has embraced the changes seen in farm shops over the past decade, repositioned itself a couple of times and is currently looking in great shape for 2018 with new additions to its offering both three years ago and last year now fully bedded in and with plans in store for the coming months.
“Where we are situated has meant what we stock in the farm shop needs to be special individual local produce that you can’t buy in he supermarkets,” says Jo. “The likes of Aldi, who are in the town, have proved serious competition for the major supermarkets and businesses like ours.
“That’s why we’ve scaled back our farm shop produce to the quality things customers really want from local farms and local businesses such as Wold Top and Great Newsome beers from farms in East Yorkshire, Raisthorpe Yorkshire gin from Thixendale, Bracken Hill jams and chutneys from Elvington. We still have beef, lamb, pork and vegetables but we’ve found other sectors to move into that are bringing in customers and starting to make us more of a destination venue.”
One of the new additions has been the farm shop staple, the café or tea room, but where Jo and Colin have found success has been in their inclusion of something extra, which came about through Jo’s experience when their children were toddlers.
“I realised how difficult it was to find things to keep young ones entertained and to give young mums less stress and somewhere to relax with others. We created a nice, safe, friendly place for under fives with soft play equipment.
“It’s now almost always full during school weeks and with more people coming that creates more business for the café where we sell proper wholesome food and while people are here they look at the shop and if they have pets they can also pick up pet food.
“We’ve found a gap in the market for children’s parties that has now extended to pottery and Be My Bear parties. It’s bringing people here who may have lived in Pocklington all their lives without knowing about us.”
Other recent additions have been the farm shop’s inclusion as a UPS drop-off point and their takeover of a photograph reproduction business that was closing in the town.
“Pocklington could have lost a service for ID and passport photographs, as well as other photographs leaving the closest place as York. We took it over in August last year and our trade has been excellent. People can order from home from an app, they can come in, have a coffee, sit on a sofa, read a paper or have something to eat while they wait.”
And then there’s the caravan site. Kenny’s purchase of 10 acres 20 years ago has proved more than wise.
“We established a five-caravan site under Caravan & Camping Club rules all with electric hook-ups in 2014 and Colin loves it. He’s the good guy everybody loves because he sorts everything out. It’s such a feelgood factor when people who stay here tell you how much they like where you live and they all love Pocklington.
“We’ve recently had planning passed to extend the site to 30 caravans. This also creates even more trade for the shop and the café. We’re also putting on special events like a G&T Gin and Tunes evening on Friday, February 2.”