It all began with my wife’s insistence that we have our own hens. I was hesitant but in a fit of pique and with Jim’s connivance she ordered a cheap diy hen house which arrived flat-packed. With a wicked grin, Jim quickly assembled it much to my annoyance and the hens were ordered. Apparently looking after them was going to be my problem! The flimsy little coop was a disaster and in the following months much bigger investments had to be made including electric fences, fox proof runs, a vermin proof food shed, feeding and watering troughs and ultimately a £3,500 state of the art chicken shed! The first 12 chickens quickly became 24 and soon we were at peak of 49 (after that the Government steps in and regulates you out of sight). We couldn’t eat all the eggs so a little board appeared outside our house and we started to sell eggs from the door. This led to sales of honey and surplus plants until one day we heard that our neighbours were closing their tractor parts shop and I stupidly said “How about renting it out to us?”
And so it came to pass that on April Fools Day 2022, we took on Tesco and opened our own food shop. We reckoned the big supermarkets had had their day. They were too large, over staffed, capital intensive with vulnerable supply chains and, more importantly, their food was so full of pesticides, preservatives and flavour enhancers we had long since stopped buying anything from them. So we gave the empty tractor parts shop next door a quick makeover and went into what others laughingly call “business”. Anyway it seems to work. By not taking any wages and accepting huge losses each month, we are able to offer the most amazing selection of great organic food on the planet at affordable prices.
Of course, we are not farmers but most farmers these days have been so regulated that they tend to have large fields with a single crop. Monoculture has it’s problems. Firstly, it is very prone to attack by pests which can easily wipe out a whole field making pesticides are essential. Also the lack of diverse plants each drawing up different trace minerals from different levels in the ground leaves the soil depleted of nutrrients. Artificial fertilisers are the only solution but even so there are concerns that soils abused in this way will eventually become barren. So generally, when you do see a farm shop on a proper farm, most produce is bought in anyway because they do not produce the variety of crops needed to stock a farm shop.
We garden rather than farm our little acreage so in our first year of operation we produced and sold all of these items produced on our smallholding….honey (Adrian Doward beekeeper), cut flowers (Blodau Clwyd), raspberries, salad bags, rhubarb, potatoes, leeks, onions, peas, broad beans, runner beans, french beans, herbs, carrots, radish, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and eggs of course. Fortunately, most people still happily drive past our shop to visit the big boys in town so we don’t have to produce vast quantities. Nevertheless, it was a relief to discover Lyncroft Farm near Ormskirk who produce certified organic vegetables on a much bigger scale than we can. And so began weekly trips to visit Duncan to get fresh veg direct from the farm which we bundle up into £10 veg boxes for our loyal customers.
Now milk was a problem. We drink unprocessed milk direct from Mr Oultram of Newbridge Farm at Ewloe. He has a pedigree pure-bred Ayshire herd and has supplied “raw” milk for over 40 years. He feeds his cows on grass in summer and on silage and maize in winter. The resulting milk is delicious and, of course, extremely nutritious and certainly, an important part of any healthy diet. Sales have been increasing as people have become more aware of the health benefits. However, in order to make sure farmers can only sell their milk to supermarkets and therefore be at the mercy of whatever ridiculously low price the supermarkets set, our friendly government has regulated the sale of ordinary milk (or “raw milk” as they call it to put the fear of God into anyone considering buying it) to the point where it is almost impossible to get hold of anywhere. In particular, Mr Oultram can only sell it (with a Government health warning) direct from his own premises. We therefore cannot buy it for sale at our shop. However a legal loophole means we can accept orders for Mr Oultram’s milk and act as his milkman. In other words we simply collect from him on your behalf and add a small delivery charge.
We do have a source of organic, bottled pasteurised-only milk which at least hasn’t been homogenised like the supermarket stuff. This is provided by Jay’s Fresh Milk and you can order your own regular supply direct from him delivered to your door and obviously cheaper than from us. Just use us as a back up in case you run out. The homogenisation process effectively turns milk into tasteless whitened water. In any sane society supermarkets would be stopped from calling that stuff milk as a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act. In my opinion it should be labelled ‘heavily processed white liquid made from milk” and perhaps branded “I can’t believe this stuff is milk”. No wonder so many people have developed allergies to the processed stuff.
We are hopeful that in the near future we will be able to buy milk from a local farmer Huw Foulkes of Pentrefelin Farm Llandyrnog who only feeds his cows on grass in summer and hay in winter and not processed GMO food (rare indeed) and who keeps the calves with their mothers sharing the milk produced (also rare indeed). He will pasteurise the milk but in the old fashioned way at 60 degrees over a longer period and not the aggressive quick boiling technique which destroys the structure of the milk. We are looking forward to making that work for everyone.
Bread was another problem. We are six miles from the nearest town and the days of the little independent bakers making bread on their premises are long gone. Again, it was another area where supermarkets do not cover themselves in glory though most people seem to have reconciled themselves into buying tasteless bread full of preservatives that goes mouldy instead of stale. Hugely disappointed to find Eagles Bakery at Ruthin had closed, we were delighted to find the wonderful Bakehouse at Ruthin. This is no factory operation. They bake in the traditional manner on their premises and have a wide selection of speciality breads. We quickly decided to make a weekly trip to them and also to Chatwins to get fantastic quality bread to suit all of our customers foibles (believe me they have a lot of foibles). Chatwins admittedly are a larger enterprise but provide lovely bread and are based locally at Chester. So now, early every Friday morning, we dive down narrow country lanes across the mountain pass taking in stunning views to collect fresh quality bread for our village. Fresh Bread Friday has become our busiest day of the week with often upwards of three or sometimes even as many as four customers collecting veg boxes and bread for the weekend. The sky is the limit.
Whilst we do our best to avoid supermarkets altogether we still had an achilles heel – ice cream. My wife is partial to put it mildly to her daily ice cream fix and that meant trips to Lidl. It didn’t sit well even though we do have some respect for Lidl’s produce. Happily on one of our trips to Ruthin over the mountain we chanced across Chilly Cow Dairy Farm. A few samples of heaven in a tub in several stunning flavours was enough to convince us of the pressing need to invest £700 in an ice cream freezer that holds the ice cream at just the right temperature. Needless to say, at £2.50 a tub this is quickly becoming one of our most popular lines although any profits from this are short-lived because we are eating most of the stock ourselves.
Local and organic is the key to what we do but finding a local supplier of oranges in North Wales was proving to be a bit difficult. Supermarket oranges tend to have dried up in transportation and storage so we were delighted to team up with two Spanish farms under the crowdfarming umbrella to provide oranges and mandarins direct from their farms and boy are they juicy. I must admit it is a pleasure to sell oranges which still have green leaves attached they are that freshly picked and grown organically too. Oranges along with grapes are at the top of the list of fruits contaminated with pesticide. So finding a fresh and organic orange supplier was a real winner for us.
So here we are one year in to our venture. It makes no sense, people consider us eccentric (in other words, stupid) but we love being busy fools. It is always a pleasure to meet up with our friends and neighbours and hopefully make their lives a bit happier. Watch out Tesco, your days are numbered.