“Our aim at Stream Farm is to show that the British countryside is far better served by large numbers of small farms selling their produce directly to those who are going to eat it rather than by just a few huge farms selling to the supermarkets. To that end, we have started quite a number of small farming businesses on our 250 – acre farm with the intention of handing each one on, once it can be seen to be profitable and can earn a livelihood, to farmers who want to be part of the vision.”
The decline in the number of farming livelihoods in the UK has been driven largely by the emergence of the huge and dominant supermarkets, who, thanks to controlling 93 percent of all the food we purchase (that’s the 8 largest supermarkets), squeeze profit away from the farmer, forcing him or her to increase the scale and intensity of their enterprise, or go out of business. Patrick Holden, a diary farmer in Wales, former head of the Soil Association and currently director of the Sustainable Food Trust, farmed organic carrots for supermarkets for 20 years but gave up in the face of unreasonable demands and ‘amoral’ buying policies. ‘Government wants food prices kept down, but the only way to do that in this country is through this tyranny of exploitation, continually screwing down the prices paid to producers. And if a producer doesn’t sell to them, you go quietly out of business,’ he said. ‘But we’re all complicit. We shop in supermarkets, we own shares in them, our pension funds are in them. We have to question this way of providing cheap food. It has put me and tens of thousands of others out of business.’
There is a simple answer; we need to shorten our supply lines. A farmer who sells his food directly to the person who will consume it, or to the restaurant who will serve it, can charge a price which reflects his costs of production, doesn’t have to divide up his profit between middlemen, and can therefore begin to earn a livelihood.
But the benefits run far deeper. Our small-scale approach allows for local relationships between farmer and consumer to emerge and flourish. We invite those who buy our produce (or those who are considering it) to come and see our animals and the environment in which they live.
There is a growing awareness that we need to know the provenance of the food we eat. When small farms deliver directly to those who will consume it, this becomes possible. Take our beef as an example. Each animal is completely traceable and our production process is totally transparent. We can tell you everything you need to know about our meat such as their diet, their age, their pedigree, their kill date, or the amount of time they hung for.
Almost all our produce is distributed within 35 miles from the farm – so our network of customers is truly local. When large, industrial farms deal with supermarkets, this level of connection to food production is simply not possible.