As Dr James Bell and Alastair Boot spoke about in their recent blog, Covid-19 has presented both challenges and opportunities for the food industry. Local food businesses have seen a boom in interest, providing goods alternatives without having to travel to a high street retailer. With this in mind, alumnus Michael Dart saw an opportunity for his family farm business to expand its horizons.
Darts Farm was initially set up by Michael’s father in 1971 but is now managed by Michael and his two brothers, running the working farm and related businesses. The challenge of Covid-19 was to take this online and reach as many people as possible from the Clyst Valley in Exeter.
Michael shared the initial vision for the farm, saying: “Darts was so far ahead of anything really like it. The logic was that shopping wasn’t a job, shopping was something that people did for pleasure as well as function. We started seeing the importance of local and, to be honest, we couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a big thing. We thought, ‘Why is it not important to support local food companies and local farmers?’.”
This local initiative has become a national award winning endeavour. Most recently, Darts Farm was named ‘Best Farm Shop’ in the Food Reader Awards. Translating this online meant taking this reputation with them. However, the team achieved this in record time by developing the website, distribution area and warehouse in just one week. As different team members picked up new roles, Michael shared how Darts Farm has come together to make this achievable: “We’ve done it slightly differently to a supermarket online offer. We tried to recreate the experience of going to Darts in our online experience.
“With the ‘Send Some Cheer’ hampers, we can send a little chocolate box, tea, coffee, gin - we have a whole range of them. You’ll be amazed at how many people are cheering up others, particularly those who are sitting at home not being able to get out.”
The success has been clear as Michael said: “We’ve gone from nothing, to literally, hundreds of orders a day. It’s incredible.”
The Darts Farm team have all come together to create this new venture. Michael explained: “We’ve got waitresses working in the farm shop, packing vegetables. Chefs who were in the restaurant, are now helping the butchers pack meat boxes and cut meat. Every staff member has been flexible and willing to step up to the mark. It’s all hands on deck and we’re so proud of what we’ve achieved together; I can’t believe it!”
Looking to the future of local shopping, Micheal said: “The optimist in me hopes people enjoy the time and keep many of the values after the pandemic.”
With so many jobs between field and fork, being the local food business for the consumer is just one of these roles. To find out how you could be a key player in the farm gate to plate process, join us at our Virtual Open Day, July 22, and speak to members of our agriculture, food and business departments to see how our degrees that matter could make a difference to the future of the supply chain.
To read Michael’s original interview, click here.