By MICK WHITWORTH
Britain’s food system is at risk of a catastrophic crash echoing to the meltdown in financial markets, a leading farm shop operator has warned.
Michael Dart, co-owner of Darts Farm Shopping Village near Exeter, told FFD a handful of giant companies had been allowed to dominate the food supply chain in a way that mirrored what happened with the major banks, taking control away from local communities.
Pointing to the number of dairy farmers being driven out of business by below-cost pricing, he said: “It was only after the banking system collapsed that people said, ‘How did we let that happen?’
“In my honest opinion we’re doing the same thing in food. We’ve let a few major food companies take control, and it will collapse. We’re losing all our dairy farmers, and once they’re gone could you really get them back?”
When traditional food businesses fold, he said, it not only meant a loss of production capacity but a loss of skills and knowledge that could prove impossible to replace.
“I’m sure it will be just like the financial crisis: people will say, ‘How did that happen?’”
Darts Farm – which will be featured as Deli of the Month in October’s FFD – is one of the UK’s biggest farm-based shops, with a 50,000 sq ft site that includes AGA, Fired Earth and Cotswold Outdoor concessions and a 10,000 sq ft food hall. It is part of the 500-acre farm owned by brothers Paul, Michael and James Dart.
Michael Dart was awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship in 2010 to study the “real” (non-monetary) value of food to consumers and the wider community, visiting Italy and the US.
He said UK farm shops, farmers markets and specialist food shops were “on the right track” in trying to strengthen their local food chains. “We’re clearly doing something right, but we need to get even closer to producers.
“Supermarkets, through their marketing, are trying to pretend that they are close to producers. But no-one believes them – and it’s not true.”
Darts Farm is hoping to follow the likes of Ludlow Food Centre and Suffolk Food Hall in bringing small food businesses to produce on site, focusing on those with an “artisan and educational element to them”. “There’s a hell of a close link between understanding food and making the right food choices,” Dart told FFD.