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The sourcing theme refers to the supply chain of the farm shop. It is through this channel that farm shops work with rural farmers and producers. Farm shops also work with artisans to encourage locally processed food that is currently unavailable within the local areas. Lastly, farm shop operators operate as experts in the field as they negotiate both the supply opportunities and the consumer demand for specific products as well as the regulatory environment for food production.

Since most farm shops require additional inventory above their on-farm production, farm shop managers are constantly searching their communities for innovative food inventory. That process involves visiting farms and meeting farmers in an effort to establish a long-term partnership. Part of the issue in working with rural producers is finding both quality and quantity. Since many of the customers come from urban or suburban areas, they must make sure the quality of food is worth the driving distance. Farmers usually produce commodities, so encouraging speciality production is also important. For example, carrying organic produce may carry more weight than just locally sourced non-organic produce.

My husband and I were always keen that we should do a tasting of everything, even the wines and the cures and things like that. It was very much part of our philosophy, for our customer experience, to make it different from going to a supermarket or a big shop. We want our customers to try things before they buy it. So when we find something with potential, but it may be a bit of work, we help the producer make it better, to our quality level. We put photos around the shop that we have taken when we go to visit the farms and the producers so we can literally point to the wall and say, ‘that’s so-and-so’s product, that’s where it’s from and we have been there’. (Farm shop #5)

Discovering people willing to craft specific food items is also something these managers find rewarding. Making sure that new producers maintain the values of the farm shop, such as sourcing local, is always challenging, but by starting with new entrants and providing a retail outlet for their products, long-term partnerships have developed.

We have people coming along with almost nothing and creating incredible bread, you know, selling loaves of bread for almost 3 or 4 or 5 pounds.

We also helped a young man start a juicing business. It’s a way you can add massive value to the margin very quickly. And that has been very successful. We create businesses in the local areas that need it most.

(Farm shop #4)

Ensuring health and safety standards also falls to the farm shop managers. Unlike retail operations that require distributors to ensure appropriate certifications and labelling, farm shop managers must inform producers of these legal requirements, as they are often more knowledgeable and more experienced than farmers or producers. In many ways, these farm shop managers become mentors to new start-up companies.

Traceability in the UK and in Europe is important. So we have to keep all the labels of everything. So when the beef is killed, its passport comes with where it lived and all that. So when we get a carcass in here, we’ll have the cow’s passport that comes with it. So, we visit some of our suppliers and go out and check their health and safety and stuff like that. My head butcher today is actually at one of our meat suppliers doing a check on what they’re doing and they’re selecting beef for us and stuff like that. It’s all part of the job. (Farm shop #6)

By being actively involved with rural farmers, farm shop managers are often well integrated into their neighbouring local communities, both suburban and rural. Marketing partnerships and local development agencies provide both support and networking for farm shop managers. At the same time, these agencies offer small grant and loan opportunities as farm shops are classified as agricultural businesses. Marketing partnerships include local food promotional agencies, as well as tourism partnership (discussed in the next section).

As a retailer you can build capacity for these producers to be able to access the marketplace. You see your role as less than ‘I’m just running a shop’ and more of ‘I’m creating a marketplace’. There are a lot of people who maybe don’t have a huge marketplace right now, and as more people do that, it really helps raise the community as well. (Farm shop #7)

Within the urban-rural framework, farm shops view their role as bringing new money into the rural communities by providing a middle ground where urban consumers can purchase rural products, yet also supporting the rurality of the area and providing sustainable development options that celebrate rural heritage and culture.

What we’re doing in our tiny way, we are sucking money out of London and applying it up here and beyond. So that’s a benefit for the local economy and our neighbouring rural areas here. The recession has hit small rural businesses very hard and we are helping to remedy that.

(Farm shop #7)

The nature of farm shops ensures a tight network between the rural communities where agriculture is produced and the surrounding suburban areas. As economic drivers and mentors to new businesses, farm shops offer new skills, knowledge transfer and distribution channels for rural agricultural producers as a means to ensure quality and quantity of produce to supply their customers. They also provide a valuable tourism service, as discussed in the tourism partnership theme.

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