The Organic Farm Shop at Abbey Home Farm, on the Burford Road out of Cirencester, represents a completely different world of weekly shopping. Set up by Will and Hilary Chester-Master 12 years ago, it is a completely unique and refreshing experience and if you are weary of bland supermarket shopping, this is your breath of fresh air coming into a sunlit room.
Observe the sign as you walk along the footpath to the door; it sets the mood for what you will find inside:
"The land is not ours, it belongs to the future, and we should leave it in good heart".
Despite farming being in Will’s family background, the couple originally used to run the Cargo trading stall at Cirencester market, where they sold furniture, textiles, accessories and clothes imported from India. They have never abandoned this side of the business, as part of the farm shop, to this day, is set out like a mini souk bazaar. The hippy look of batik fabrics, the scent of natural oils and the casual arrangement of merchandise is part of the charm and magic of the experience.
Fresh organic fruit and vegetables are displayed in vintage wooden boxes, carts, iron trolleys and painted wooden shelves. The farm manager’s wife explained to me that the symbol for the Organic Farm Shop is the carrot, so the colour orange is used on tickets to represent “home grown” produce. As the season becomes warmer and lighter, more of the produce carries orange tickets. Apples are gnarled and misshapen, potatoes are covered in grit and soil, parsnips are mottled and garlic is muddy. This shop sells only real food, the sort of food you can eat without worry, and give to your children after just washing. You need never peel again.
The farm shop is divided into small sections that you might find in a traditional, market town's merchant’s corn hall. Alongside one wall are detergents, pet food and housewares. Drinks, jars and tins are the other side of the bakery section, which doubles up as the till (orange till of course). You can do a one-stop weekly shop here, from toiletries, to poultry, from dairy to garden seeds, from firewood to sausages. The prices are good value considering everything is organic, and you have to pay for quality names and brands that are sourced ethically and sustainably. The words “Fairtrade” and “Local” are written on umpteen signs, all goods are priced individually and little notices of artisanal workshops, talks and walks are displayed on notice boards. This is a community hub, supermarket, village emporium and organic farm showcase all in one.
There is an absolutely huge café restaurant that is added on to one section of the farmshop, and there you can have tea, coffee and homemade cakes, or sit and eat breakfast, lunch and high tea six days a week. All around you are beautiful Indian furniture, potted plants, wood burning stoves, magazines and books as well as framed pictures and accessories, all for sale. You sit listening to gentle music, looking out of wide, painted windows onto fat, brown and white free range chickens pecking in the field beyond, and rows upon rows of organic vegetables growing in the spring sunshine.
In the polytunnels that run along the car park I spied neat rows of lettuces and bright orange tulips. As I unloaded my orange trolley I felt that this whole experience had been so much more pleasurable than going to a normal supermarket. There are 40 people employed at Abbey Farm, across a whole range of activities including cookery courses, woodland walks, farm stays, conference and meeting events and of course, agriculture, bringing the community together to share in the beauty and productivity of this special place. The future’s bright. The future’s orange.
Abbey Home Farm Telephone: 01285 640441
Gloucestershire GL7 5HF