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Meet the women making farms Britain’s most fashionable shopping destination

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Jeremy Clarkson may be the nominal owner of Britain’s most famous farm shop but it’s his glamorous girlfriend, Lisa Hogan, who keeps this most unlikely of farmers on the straight and narrow.

As followers of Amazon Prime’s hit series, Clarkson’s Farm, know, it’s Lisa who actually does everything, from pricing spuds to marshalling customers at the Diddly Squat Farm Shop.

While the former actress, 48, charmingly multi-tasks, 61-year-old Jeremy does, well, diddly squat.

With her mastery of everything from spreadsheets to display cabinets, Lisa is in the vanguard of the farm-to-plate trend. Indeed, since opening last year, the shop has been inundated with fans — so much so that last week Clarkson had to go on a charm offensive with angry locals at the town hall. Over the past two years, farm shops like Diddly Squat, delis and specialist retailers have taken off like a rocket — fuelled by lockdown, when local sellers went above and beyond to support their communities and the big weekly supermarket shop fell out of favour.

Women who are apart of the new breed of entrepreneurs, selling the very best produce direct to customers from farm shops share their stories – including Lady Bamford (pictured)

The Farm Retail Association, which champions farmers’ markets and shops, says the sector now has a whopping £1.5 billion annual turnover and is still growing fast.

Leading the charge is a new breed of entrepreneurial women, selling the very best produce direct to customers from farm shops up and down the country.

Like Hogan (and Clarkson), many are following dreams of a bucolic, stress-free existence by quitting the rat race and rolling up their sleeves in the countryside.

Along the way, they are turning humble farm shops into very big ventures indeed.

Here, we meet four women behind this seismic rural revolution: champions of local produce, eco-pioneers and brilliant businesswomen — with heartwarming stories to boot.

I WAS TOLD ORGANIC WOULD DETER PEOPLE

Lady (Carole) Bamford, 75, is the founder of Daylesford organic farm, Gloucestershire. A mother of three, Carole is married to businessman Anthony Bamford, 75, chairman of J. C. Bamford.

The original farm shop trailblazer (who counts the Prime Minister as a fan), Carole Bamford has 19 years’ experience under her belt and still gets a thrill out of selling to the public. ‘I’m in the shop most days,’ she says. ‘I adore everything, from arranging the goods — I’m very fussy about how the counters look — to hearing what the customers think. Visiting a farm shop should be a wonderful experience where you learn about the food and go home with something gorgeous and healthy to enjoy.’

Lady Bamford (pictured), who is the founder of Daylesford organic farm, said her light-bulb moment came while visiting the Royal Agricultural Show back in 1974

Lady Bamford (pictured), who is the founder of Daylesford organic farm, said her light-bulb moment came while visiting the Royal Agricultural Show back in 1974

Deep in the Cotswolds, the flagship farm offers more than just a shop. There are cafes, a cookery school, gardening classes and even a wellness spa.

Over the years, Carole has expanded her Bamford empire to include clothing, bath and beauty products, while Daylesford Organic now has four more outlets and a range of ready meals.

Carole’s journey to running a business with 700 staff and an annual turnover of £43.1 million (driven by a 263 per cent increase in online sales) began back in 1974. As a new mother, she was anxious about what her newborn daughter, Alice, should be eating.

‘I read a lot about the problems of pesticides,’ she says. ‘Then one day I was at the Royal Agricultural Show and, with Alice in her pushchair, I wandered into the organic tent. This lovely farmer explained how he farmed sustainably and it was a light-bulb moment. If he could do it, why couldn’t we?’

So many times I’ve thought I’m completely mad — but now there’s definitely a farm shop revolution going on – Lady Bamford, Founder Daylesford Organic Farm 

Back home, Carole persuaded her rather reluctant husband to let her ‘experiment’ with 50 acres of their 3,000-acre farm in Staffordshire (they acquired their Gloucestershire farm, Daylesford, in 1992).

‘Within three years, Anthony was totally convinced,’ she says.

‘By the time the farm had been certified fully organic by the Soil Association, the land had literally cleaned itself. Our animals no longer needed antibiotics because they were so much healthier.’ By 1997, the entire Staffordshire farm had gone organic.

It was in 2002, after Anthony acquired Daylesford and with her children leaving home, that Carole — itching for a new challenge and eager to get more people eating organically — came up with the idea of a shop.

‘I converted an empty barn, put in a few shelves and crossed my fingers,’ she says. ‘We started with a few products and sold soup and sandwiches.’

Lady Bamford (pictured) admits that she regrets taking advice to downplay the organic side of the business in their branding in the early days

Lady Bamford (pictured) admits that she regrets taking advice to downplay the organic side of the business in their branding in the early days

With no business training, Carole admits she made some mistakes in the early days. ‘Someone advised me to downplay the organic side of the business in our branding. They said ‘organic’ was often misunderstood and associated with being overpriced,’ she says.

‘I bitterly regret agreeing to that and we are now called Daylesford Organic. But it taught me to trust my gut instincts. I’d advise any woman starting a business to stick to her guns.’

Four years later, in 2006, Carole launched Bamford, her range of skincare and clothing products. Once again, the impetus came from personal experience — a period she spent in hospital for a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, where the immune system attacks the nerves and causes muscle weakness and even paralysis.

‘It’s a really horrible condition and it took me a year to recover,’ she says. ‘It made me realise that I needed to look after myself better. Although I was taking great care with what I was eating, I wasn’t taking the same care with what I put on my skin or what household cleaning products we were using. I got rid of spray deodorants and started investigating organic and natural products.

‘There is definitely a revolution going on. Farm shops are coming into their own as more people want to know what they are eating.

‘It’s flattering to think other women might be inspired to open farm shops — particularly when there were so many moments over the years when I thought I was completely mad.’

IT WASN’T DAFT TO DO A BUTCHERY COURSE

Tori Stanley, 38, runs Tori & Ben’s farm shop with her husband, farmer Ben Stanley, 41, in King’s Newton, Derbyshire. They have two children: Bertie, six, and Iona, four.

Tori Stanley, 38, (pictured), who runs Tori & Ben’s farm shop, threw herself into helping Ben with farming while juggling her career as area marketing manager for BMW

Tori Stanley, 38, (pictured), who runs Tori & Ben’s farm shop, threw herself into helping Ben with farming while juggling her career as area marketing manager for BMW

With her long blonde hair and gleaming smile, Tori Stanley is few people’s idea of a butcher. So it’s no wonder customers at her farm shop sometimes ask if they can see the man who actually does the work.

‘I have to explain they’re looking at her,’ says Tori. ‘I’ve been working with meat for 15 years so I’m usually able to help.

‘The customers come because, like us, they are passionate about food and want to learn about what they are buying.

‘If you put care into choosing a new mobile phone, then why on earth wouldn’t you put the same care into deciding what goes into your body?’

As the owner of one of Britain’s most flourishing farm shops, Tori is rightly proud of her success — and also a little bemused by it. ‘I took a degree in graphic design and saw myself with a high-flying career in London,’ she says.

Instead, aged 20, she fell in love with Ben, a fourth-generation farmer — and when he got the chance to run his own tiny ten-acre farm 11 years ago, she juggled her career to help him.

Tori (pictured) started selling directly to customers at local village fetes, before getting pitches at early farmers’ markets in North and West London

Tori (pictured) started selling directly to customers at local village fetes, before getting pitches at early farmers’ markets in North and West London

‘I kept my day job as area marketing manager for BMW and threw myself into farming on the side,’ she says. ‘My colleagues thought I was nuts.

‘I’d come in with stories of lambs being born through the night or what I’d learnt on my butchery course and they would be talking about what was on Netflix.

‘We moved onto the farm in April 2010 with just a sausage machine and 30 sheep and got married ten days later.’

Wanting to control their business, Ben and Tori decided to sell direct to customers. They started with local village fetes and their break came when they got pitches at early farmers’ markets in North and West London.

‘Whatever the weather, we went every Saturday morning for five years,’ says Tori. ‘But it was utterly exhausting. One Friday night I was up until 4am lambing. After an hour’s sleep, I was waving goodbye to Ben with tears of exhaustion rolling down my cheeks and more lambs ready to be born.

‘With hundreds of pounds worth of fresh meat in his van, he had to leave me to it.’

In 2014, they moved to 400-acre Park Farm. Three months later their son Bertie arrived, followed by Iona 19 months after that.

Tori (pictured) said you have to be totally hands-on while running a farm shop, from carving a cow to doing the accounts among jobs

Tori (pictured) said you have to be totally hands-on while running a farm shop, from carving a cow to doing the accounts among jobs

Their farm, in rolling Derbyshire countryside near Melbourne but five minutes away from one of the M1’s busiest junctions, proved the perfect base for a shop.

‘It was a chance to dip our toes in the water,’ Tori says. ‘We had no idea it would take off like a rocket.’

They have since trebled their business year on year.

‘We get everyone, from lorry drivers stopping off for a burger in our cafe to London customers stocking up their freezers,’ says Tori. ‘We have all you could possibly need to feed yourself, from our award-winning beef to locally made gin.

‘I particularly love supporting other local businesswomen. We have regular pop-up shops where ladies sell everything from handmade cards to dog treats.

‘When you run a farm shop you have to be totally hands-on. I’ll be carving a cow one minute, doing the accounts the next. Life is never dull.’

CANCER MADE ME RETHINK WHAT I ATE

Rebecca Mayhew, 42, runs Old Hall Farm outside Norwich, Norfolk, with husband, Stuart, 43. They have two children: Isobel, 12, and Jack, ten.

Rebecca Mayhew, 42, (pictured) who runs Old Hall Farm, said being diagnosed with breast cancer made her re-evaluated the way she worked and ate

Rebecca Mayhew, 42, (pictured) who runs Old Hall Farm, said being diagnosed with breast cancer made her re-evaluated the way she worked and ate 

Rebecca Mayhew’s farm shop venture started in a tiny wooden shed with an honesty box system.

Four years later, her annual turnover is £1.2 million and she supplies customers from Brighton to Aberdeen, as well as Michelin-starred chefs who are passionate about her award-winning cream and butter.

‘When we first started, everyone said it was impossible to make it work. But I honestly think being a total outsider helped. I wasn’t brought up in farming so I had the courage to challenge convention.’

Rebecca is also used to facing challenges head-on. Nine years ago, when she was still nursing her newborn son, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatment, she is now clear.

‘It was definitely a catalyst for change,’ she says. ‘I’d been working in a very high-stress environment and it made me re-evaluate everything, from the way I worked to what I ate.’

After leaving the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, where she fell in love with Stuart, Rebecca worked as a land agent and auctioneer while Stuart ran the 500-acre family pig and arable farm with his parents.

Rebecca (pictured) explained that she had a desire to set her own prices, share her love of good food and let customers find out exactly how their food is produced

Rebecca (pictured) explained that she had a desire to set her own prices, share her love of good food and let customers find out exactly how their food is produced 

Then, five years ago, the couple got the chance to buy the beautiful house in the centre of their land. Old Hall was the family home of Lord Horatio Nelson’s mother and has a 16th-century moat.

‘I’d been walking past this stunning property for 20 years, thinking it would make the most wonderful farm shop,’ says Rebecca. ‘At last we could cut out the middle man and sell direct to the public.

‘We could set our own prices, share our love of good food and let our customers — particularly children — find out exactly how their food is produced.’

Giving up her job, Rebecca threw herself into opening a shop.

‘Every day is exciting,’ she says. ‘I still remember the thrill of rushing into the little shed to find we’d sold out of milk.

‘The business has mushroomed. But we literally live above the shop and I still get delighted when cars pull up in the drive.’

Old Hall Farm now employs 20 staff and has a farm shop, butchery, delicatessen, dairy (where visitors can watch the daily milking) and even a vineyard.

‘After completing my cancer treatment, I ran the Paris Marathon and Stuart and I ended up in the Champagne region of France,’ she says.

Rebecca (pictured) said since the pandemic, people have become more interested in where their food comes from and what happens on its journey

Rebecca (pictured) said since the pandemic, people have become more interested in where their food comes from and what happens on its journey 

‘He fell in love with the vineyards. Back home, we decided to start our own. That was three years ago and we now have three white wines — a Bacchus and two sauvignons — and a sparkling. We are now planning a market garden and a vegetable box scheme.

‘We also stock food from local producers. I try not to sell anything you can buy in a supermarket. What’s the point? We sell real food to real people.

‘This is a brilliant time for farm shops. Having worried about how they would get hold of food at the beginning of the pandemic, people are now much more interested in where their food comes from and what happens on its journey.

‘I can’t change the way everyone eats but I can help people make good food choices — or, at least, ask questions.’

I SWAPPED MY SUIT FOR WELLIES

Angela Rooke, 37, runs Beadlam Grange farm shop, outside Helmsley, North Yorkshire, with her husband Pete, 33. They have two children: William, five, and Cordelia, two.

Angela Rooke, 37, (pictured), took the helm of Beadlam Grange farm shop after the death of her mother-in-law

Angela Rooke, 37, (pictured), took the helm of Beadlam Grange farm shop after the death of her mother-in-law

It was a family tragedy that propelled Angela into running her hugely successful business in the North York Moors.

Her mother-in-law, Jenny Rooke, opened the Beadlam Grange shop in 2007 in an effort to keep the family cattle farm afloat. When she died of bowel cancer in February 2019, aged 63, Angela found herself at the helm.

‘It was a huge shock,’ she says. ‘I’d been a production team leader for a specialist engineering company. I travelled the country and spent my life in a business suit.

‘I’d helped out in the shop after William was born but suddenly I was thrown in at the deep end, while Peter concentrated on the farm with his dad, Mark.’

Angela and Pete met when she was 24 and moved into a house on the 300-acre family farm when they married in 2014. But she was decidedly hands-off.

‘It may be a cattle farm but I can’t even calve a cow and haven’t been allowed on a tractor since making a huge mess of “rolling” a field the first time I did it,’ she says. ‘But, thanks to my job, I do know a lot about planning and organisation. I have simply transferred those skills and I’m loving every minute of it.’

Angela (pictured) said she's turns her hand hand to everything from manning the till to stocking the shelves, while being a full-time mum

Angela (pictured) said she’s turns her hand hand to everything from manning the till to stocking the shelves, while being a full-time mum

After taking over ownership of the business with Pete in October 2020, Angela was the driving force for a big expansion.

‘We have totally renovated the shop and gone from a little cafe with 40 seats to a restaurant over two floors with 100 covers,’ she says. ‘We now have a staff of 32, including three chefs.

‘During lockdown we were doing 40 deliveries a day. The loveliest part is supporting other local producers — our lamb is reared on the North York Moors, our chicken comes from a farmer a mile up the road and most of the vegetables from a farm five miles away.

‘It’s a family business. My sister-in-law, Helen, runs the gift shop and my kids sell eggs from their chickens. Admittedly they only manage a single box a day but it adds to their pocket money.

‘William has been promised that he can buy his own car when he has enough money. It might take some time!

‘We are open seven days a week and I turn my hand to everything from manning the till to stocking the shelves, while being a full-time mum.’

It is testament to Angela’s drive that last year profits were up by 50 per cent. She says: ‘There is a change in the wind — people are desperate to buy good-quality local food. As they drive in, they see our cattle grazing. It’s idyllic.’

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