Valuable lessons in the evolution of the farm shop

David Lister with some of his Landrace Cross large White Cross Hampshire Pigs.
David Lister with some of his Landrace Cross large White Cross Hampshire Pigs.
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When the farm shop revolution started in earnest around 30 years ago it signalled a move away from the 1960s image of fruit and veg traded from the farm wall, even though there are still one or two that exist today.

The move saw many farm shops embrace everything from delicatessens, farm cafés, restaurants, butchery counters and bakeries, as well as becoming special event centres and destination venues.

One aspect that many farmers-turned-shopkeepers may not have appreciated initially has been the art of keeping up with the ever-changing needs of a public that enjoys a ride out in the countryside and is actively looking for somewhere to feel comfortable, have a cuppa and be a part of that feelgood experience of buying and being able to talk about the provenance of local farm produce.

Grace Lister took over the running of what is now Lister’s Farm Shop in Langthorpe, near Boroughbridge last year. It was previously known as Newby Hall Farm Shop, which had always proved slightly problematic as people expected to find it at Newby Hall, which in reality is three miles away. Grace’s father David came up with the idea of opening the farm shop originally but after a good start the business stalled. That’s where Grace came in.

“I just felt it had lost its way. I wanted to get it back to being all about local produce, somewhere to come to and at the same time tell the farm story. When our customers came through the door all that I felt was that it was a large space that was not laid out correctly. It gave the impression of being more like a warehouse than where people would feel comfortable and it certainly didn’t portray our homebred meat properly or champion local producers. Dad wasn’t sure which direction to take it but I felt passionate that it could work if we made changes that would see it become a destination farm shop.”

Grace studied event management at Sheffield Hallam University and has organised weddings and private parties for event companies since, and she relished the challenge of turning around the fortunes of the farm shop.

“I decided that we had to take it back to its roots of being a farm business and to extol all of the virtues of local meats and vegetables.

“I went round a number of farm shops in the area but knew what I wanted to do with it before seeing them. We closed as the old business in September last year and ten days later we had the place completely refurbished, changing nearly everything to reopen as Lister’s Farm Shop.

“I’ve had all the furniture built specifically for the shop and the café which are now separated from each other so that those such as the ladies lunching with us today can have a good time and people coming to buy in the shop can all have their own space. We have also changed the flow of where items are in the farm shop and we have introduced a lot of new local suppliers such as Rosebud Preserves of Masham. We also now smoke our own bacon and do all our own baking. We didn’t have our own oven before.

“We’re now telling the farm story too, through photographs of the different generations of the family working on the farm. Visitors like history and really enjoy the story behind the farm and farm shop.

“We now have two butchers and the team includes three of us around the shop, café and deli during the week and four on a weekend. Our full English breakfasts, hot steak sandwiches with caramelised onions and gorgeous cakes have already won us a good following inside these first six months.

“Word of mouth is getting around and we’re already getting hotels coming to us for their meat orders. That’s what happens when your premises are as welcoming as the quality of your produce.”

David’s inspiration for the first incarnation of the farm shop came about having taken over the farming in-hand at Newby Hall.

“When Foot and Mouth disease saw much of the countryside closed down Newby Hall was one of the few public places kept open. I saw 150,000 visitors coming and thought that if everyone took one pork chop away that it could be a success. The closest place we could find at the time was here next to our farm. It had been a garden centre and we replaced it with a farm shop. It was successful for a while but then plateaued out. Grace has taken up the challenge of making it into what is now a really nice place to eat and shop.

“We also show the farm shop staff what is happening around the farm so that they know what’s going on and can tell ours customers from their own experience. Grace has brought a smile to all our faces and we feel this is now a lovely way to connect with the public and showcase what we do here on the farm.”

Grace hasn’t finished yet either. She has plans for a picnic area and playground-style activities for little ones in the summer.

“I love the shop and couldn’t imagine doing anything else now. We’ve brought about a huge change and it has taken a great deal of hard work from everybody but it has definitely been worth it and we are looking forward to welcoming everyone who either hasn’t found us yet or who used to come years ago.”