Farm Retail Conference 2023

I sit here trying to take in what a fantastic three days the Farm Retail Conference was this year. It was my first time attending and I write this with a brain buzzing with ideas to bring to our farm. 

For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been working here since July last year… however this is not my first time being an employee for Mark and Jane. Back in 2009 I joined the team as a Saturday girl working in the butchers and over the following 5 years I had spells working in the lambing shed, butchers and coffee shop whilst applying to join the British Army at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Leaving the British Army in 2021 I couldn’t work out what I wanted to do and after speaking with Mark and Jane, I find myself back where my working life began on the beautiful Broom House Farm. I’ve had a fantastic 7 months so far, but that is another tale. 

The Farm Retail Association is a fantastic organisation that brings together farm retailers from all over the UK to network, share ideas and visit one anothers’ farm shops, giving constructive feedback and celebrating this field to fork industry. As you can imagine, being a rural farm shop brings challenges when your customers have the convenience of supermarkets on their doorsteps. We have to work hard to ensure we’re telling the story, demonstrating why shopping with us is best. This year the conference was held in Exeter, a long way to go, but having been selected as finalists for Small Farm Shop of the year and Farm Shop Butchery of the year we thought we would make the effort to journey to the deep South West for the conference and awards ceremony. Amazingly we won both awards! What an exciting experience it was for me to be part of the team bringing back two great awards!

The conference started off with a networking evening, and a chance for old friends to catch up and share their year. For me, it was an excellent opportunity to understand other businesses and ask important questions such as ‘what brand of ice machine do you have’ and ‘have you got a milk vending machine?’ 

On day two we were up early to begin our bus tours. I visited Tre, Pol & Pen which is a Farm Shop and restaurant that opened in 2019. A fantastic, purpose built building with a restaurant and a farm shop selling everything Cornish. Next stop was the enormous Strawberry Fields Farm Shop. To be honest there wasn’t much that they didn’t do including farming, pick your own and events. This was run by a lovely family who had grown the business over 30 years. Final stop, and one of the other finalists in the butchery competition, was Darts Farm, one of the largest Farm Shops in the UK and run by 3 brothers. In comparison with our small farm shop this place was like the Metrocentre, with multiple small franchises. Like many Farm Shops they prioritise using what is available to them from their farm and ensure nothing goes to waste. 

For the dinner evening and awards ceremony Emma and I were joined by butchers John and Vincent, who travelled down to attend the dinner. Having seen some of our competition our expectations were low and so we concentrated on enjoying the night! Second to winning, my favourite moment of the night was overhearing the butchers conversation…John “the potato is nice!” Vincent “this shoulder of pork is terrible, definitely not Saddleback!”… which made Emma and I giggle. Luckily their meat snobbery was respected when moments later we were up collecting the award for the Farm Shop Butchery of the year, presented to us by Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall, giving Jane major FOMO (fear of missing out) back in Durham as she is a HF-W super fan – his ‘Meat’ book was always open on the counter in the early days… 

Day 3 was jam packed, with a trade show and conference providing useful discussion and guidance on subjects such as merchandising, HR, butchery and economic shifts within our business. We then made the long journey home to Durham, which has given us plenty of time to reflect on a very thought provoking experience.  Where do we go from here? Watch this space!