Suburban development is a result of the industrialization patterns of the past century (Berry and Gillard, 1977). Rural residents came to cities looking for employment, followed by wealthy urban residents moving away from noisy, polluted city centres, looking for a more idyllic lifestyle (Weaver, 2005). The rise in automobile ownership allowed easy access from the suburbs to city attractions, such as theatres and restaurants (Lucy and Phillips, 2000). With the increased concentration of residents outside the urban areas and less expensive land and development costs, this migration gave rise to businesses in these fringe areas (Weaver, 2005). Within tourism development, it was primarily the availability and low cost of land that encouraged the development of six specific activities: theme parks and allied attractions, tourist shopping villages, modified nature- based tourism, factory outlet malls, touring and golf courses (Weaver, 2005). This chapter argues that farm shops are another type of tourism activity that is on the rise along the urban-rural fringe.
A farm shop is best described as a type of retail outlet that usually sells produce directly from a farm. Unlike farm stands, farm shops are traditionally standalone buildings that offer a wide variety of farm produce and processed goods, delicatessen items and possibly prepared foods. Some farm shops specialize as butchers, artisan cheese makers or fruit and vegetable outlets, but more commonly farm shops today offer a variety of all food types, which are sourced on location or from neighbouring farms around a local area. In the UK, it was estimated that farm shops were a dying tradition, with over 4000 shops closing between 1991 and 1997 (DETR, 2000). However, in 2003, Renting et al. claimed that ‘It is now suggested by many that we are witnessing an impressive growth of a variety of new food-production and trade circuits falling outside the conventional model of agriculture ... making clear that their occurrence is by no means restricted to peripheral areas’ (p. 395). While it is unclear how many farm shops there are in the UK, the number is estimated to be in the thousands (The Guardian, n.d.).
There is very little academic research on farm shops, with most literature combining farm shops and farmers’ markets as rural directto-consumer retail operations. However, from an urban-rural fringe perspective, Kikuchi et al. (2002) provide the most insightful description of farm shops in the urban fringe of Tokyo. The authors describe the increasing conflict between traditional agricultural land and urban development patterns, particularly the increased value of residential and commercial land, which reduces the investment and intensity for agricultural production. Simultaneously, the rurality, or social construction of the area, was changing in light of increased development, and the reduction in environmental quality was affecting the character of the community. The result was a rise in the recreation of rurality through the celebration of agriculture, land use, farmland and farms. Amidst the interconnectedness of these values emerged the farm shop, which ‘is the indispensable establishment for both urban residents and farmers because it is the node that has connected with the community and rur- ality’ (p. 93). They write, ‘In term of rural restructuring, farm shops play a more important role in the conservation of rural land use because they are the key establishment of linkage between urban and rural land uses’ (p. 97).
Similar values can be applied to the urban-rural fringe of England’s cities. Regeneration of the historically industrialized cities has resulted in a high cost of living, with limited living space in the core cities of London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester (Maitland, 2008). As The Telegraph (2016) writes, ‘suburbs are not simply dormitories for weary commuters. [They] focus on the quality of life, not just property prices, and ease of access to the cities. Good schools, shops and leisure facilities, plus a strong sense of community, all play their part’ (n.p.). The English suburbs have also become the hub of creative industries, including artisans, musicians, craft beverage producers and foodie restaurants (Freeman, 2009).
The ‘local food movement’ has resulted, in part, from the increasing separation of food consumers from the productive assets of agriculture (Slocum, 2015). While local food is usually presented as an economic opportunity for rural regions, it seems obvious that those disconnected from food production are more likely to live in urban or peri-urban areas. Therefore, it is not surprising that the academic literature has begun to recognize the importance of the urban food movement over the past 10 years (Kuusaana and Eledi, 2015; Pearson and Pearson, 2015; Walker, 2016). Walker (2016) writes, ‘The literature supporting urban agriculture often touts its benefits for building community, providing healthy food and recreation, beautifying neighborhoods, and making productive use of vacant land’ (p. 165), which supports the greening of cities and the increasing pressure towards sustainable urban and suburban development. Therefore, food production becomes a natural partner for development when a community’s population is unable to live in the idyllic rural utopia. Furthermore, the quantity of local food produced in urban areas is substantially smaller than the demand for local food, pushing definitions of ‘local’ food into the urban-rural fringe.
Bardone and Kaaristo (2014) see tourism farms as brokers of local culture. They highlight the staging of narratives that these brokers portray as a means to ‘engage [tourists’] senses and bodies in varied and active ways’ (p. 109). As commercial ventures, these businesses have the flexibility to provide their own dialogue that presents certain versions of rurality. In the same light, Azizi and Mostafanezhad (2014) show how farmers support local food issues in a way that supports local culture and the environment. As a form of sustainable tourism, this ‘movement helps promote larger social transformations towards local, alternative, and sustainable economies’ (p. 148). While these authors are discussing rural food tourism businesses, there appear to be commonalities with farm shop operations, especially those located on agricultural properties. This chapter argues that suburban farm shops are also in a position to promote rural narratives through the staging of a local food shopping experience, which in turn supports the sustainable development of both the urban-rural fringe and the neighbouring rural areas.
This chapter explores the role that farm shops, in particular, play in linking urban and rural food systems, as well as highlighting the influx of tourism partnerships resulting from suburban farm shop growth. Farm shops provide a viable distribution channel that supports both urban and rural needs, whilst simultaneously offering an experiential component to shopping for local sourced food items, which attracts tourists and locals alike. This chapter will explain how suburban farm shops in England are linking urban and rural tourism markets.