We’re now in our fourth year of Crop for the Shop and we’ve found that it guarantees low food miles, contributes to zero food waste locally, and means our customers are eating food that’s grown for flavour rather than for shelf life.
During the lockdown, the local food system came into its own and served the needs of local people and communities really well. Shorter, more flexible supply chains proved their worth and ensured South Lakeland’s residents had safe access to fresh, wholesome food.
By their very nature, farm shops like ours have these short and flexible supply chains because the food we sell is local to us. It comes from our farm, from other local farms, and directly from growers and producers across Cumbria. But there’s one significant part of our local food offer that sits outside of any formal supply chain, the Crop for the Shop scheme. It’s a really simple idea, initiated by the BigBarn network, which was set up by a farmer to help people find good, safe, accountable food from local sources.
Crop for the Shop sees allotment, home and school growers bring their crop gluts to Low Sizergh Barn and we exchange them for a voucher to spend in the farm shop or café. It could be a crop of cabbages, a surfeit of sweet peas, or a handful of herbs.
Any produce we exchange with the growers is then sold to customers or used in the farm shop kitchens. What’s too much for a household is just enough for us to create specials for the café menu or to use in our own-made range of soups, preserves, sauces and ready meals. Crop for the Shop produce and ingredients can be found on the farm shop shelves, and in our fridges and freezers.
Behind the simplicity of the exchange, there’s a range of important principles. BigBarn aims to reverse the trend towards mass production of food and control of the market by big business and retailers. They are looking to reconnect consumers with local producers and retailers.
When you’re buying vegetables harvested by a grower down the road that very day, there are no concerns around how far the produce has travelled or whether there are any additives hidden behind a label.
It also helps us to reflect the local landscape in the farm shop; produce from the coast, valleys and farms is now supplemented by food from allotments and home plots. And what a choice of fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers we see. Hand-grown crops and heritage varieties, in all shapes and sizes and just as nature intended, are far more exciting to eat and to cook with than the standardised supermarket offer.
There’s also no question of seasonality, what we get is what will grow here, when it will grow here. And the spin-off benefit of that is increased food knowledge and education for our shoppers and for our kitchen team. They are enjoying creating tasty and nutritious dishes from ingredients they don’t often see – as well as from gluts they see all too often. Courgette cake anyone?
It all makes good economic and environmental sense as there are fewer hands in the food chain, we have the chance to offer the freshest produce grown on our doorstep, garden and allotment waste is reduced, no misshapen vegetables are overlooked, and the food miles are minimal.
It’s only a small scale initiative but it represents bigger ideas for local food. So, this year we’re celebrating our fourth year of Crop for the Shop – and we hope for many more!