“I couldn’t think of anything else to do. It’s a challenge that I want to get my head around and if you have no alternatives then you keep going. It’s absolutely something I believe in”.
What is/was your project about?
Most of my life ive been a pig farmer. Its always been quite a difficult industry because there are no set prices and its not affected by the common agricultural policy. In 1999 I decided I wasn’t going to be a pig farmer again until I retired. At that time farmers markets had just come into existence in Somerset with the first one in Bath. There was a conference in Rio and they had a sustainability initiative which some of our civil servants signed up to. When the representatives from that conference got back to England and said what do we do about this the government was quite perplexed. They then noticed it said local so it was passed to local authorities and South Somerset and Mendip district council decided to initiate Farmers Markets. A part time job managing farmers markets came up which I took. I had always done a bit of marketing and direct selling so I had some experience but it became apparent after a few years that farmers markets couldn’t move enough stuff to make any significant difference to local producers or the local economy. So we decided to start a direct delivery scheme to customers doors who couldn’t or wouldn’t go to farmers markets. It was around that time that Tesco just started doing deliveries so it rode on the crest of the wave. We stock anything that is made in Somerset from one lady cooking in her kitchen to YEO valley products. If it is made here and it is the sort of product we think has the right ethos then we will go for it. You log on and shop for the products you want and pay online. We deliver two days later. It all started withthe farmers markets so I had contact with 20/30 local producers. They were the ones who had the option to sign up with us first. They are still the core of our suppliers. There is always a waiting list for suppliers who want to come on board. I have met a few people who moved here because the infrastructure we created is better for selling local food. We get our customer base mainly from word of mouth and the internet. We also do various shows and food fairs. Nearly all of our customers say they found us through friends or just searching online
We deliver to around 170 customers each week. Customers can do a full shop on our website. Having said that we don’t stock a lot of brands. Everything that you need is on the website but perhaps not everything that you want. I say to people why don’t you get your children to do your shopping on our website because there is no rubbish food on there.
What issues do you or did you address?
Selling of produce locally and directly to customers
Producing and marketing local food
Selling enough produce to make a living.
What moved you to take action?
Firstly it was the fact that the pig farm couldn’t provide enough so I needed to change course. As a pig farmer I know the difficulties around trying to sell produce. As a farmer you are always caught between the middle men. Individual farmers are not in a strong marketing position. I thought lets create a direct link between producers and the customers.This wasn’t possible until 2000 when the internet really took hold. It wasn’t really possible until this time. We still do have a section of the population who aren’t computer literate. Some of our customers about 15% phone their orders in. So we also do that. The rest put their orders in on their ipads as they come home from work. Trying to have a system to cater for this is a challenge.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
Finance has always been a major obstacle, we also found tat because no on had ever done this before we had no model to work from. We made some mistakes. We also found that unless you put in a sufficiently ambitious bid for a grant you didn’t get it. You had to put in lots of bells and whistles to get the grant and then found that we didn’t need all those extra things. We had marketing person and about 5 members of staff but they were just spending money really. We started out with no capital and we still have no capital really.
What helped you keep going in hard times? Was there a time when you thought you would give up? (What did you think or say to inspire your self to keep going?)
I couldn’t think of anything else to do. It’s a challenge that I want to get my head around and if you have no alternatives then you keep going. It’s absolutely something I believe in.
What first prompted you to become interested in environmental issues and when was that?
I suppose being a farmer I have always connected with nature. As a lad I would just go out across the fields. I went as far as I felt safe to go and came back in time for tea.
My teenage years were during the 60’s so I was a bit flower power in those days. That airs a bit towards the environment.
I think my background has really affected who I am, my parents and grandparents were all farmers.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about your life?
I almost said 10 but then thought that’s almost euphoric so I will go for an 8.5