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Down on the Farm: How food shopping has changed

Since his last Velvet column, our world has changed dramatically - and with it the food market. The Gog’s Charles Bradford reflects on life and work in light of Covid-19

A few months ago, I started writing this column with references to the difficult journey faced by the nation and my great-grandfather when he returned from WWI and moved to Heath Farm. At that time, I obviously had no idea of the desperate challenges that lay ahead of us as we were held at the mercy of an invisible enemy.

We have been incredibly lucky to have a food business. Being agile and able to adapt quickly is a key advantage of any small business and we quickly closed the café, redeploying as many staff as possible.

As the lockdown started, enquiries about deliveries flooded in and, whilst we continue to develop an efficient delivery system, the ‘drive-through’ has been a much greater success than I thought it would be. If you didn’t fancy entering the shops - or couldn’t - being able to remain confined in your car whilst others shop for you seemingly became quite an attractive proposition.

We have now had the opportunity to get the farm shop back to its roots and immersed ourselves in selling fantastic food. This is especially true for my brother, Marcus, as he’s been working his magic sourcing not just the unusual and wonderful, but many of those essentials too: who would ever have thought that flour was going to be one of the hot commodities of 2020?As the mills struggled to get their flour into retail-size bags, we shipped in large commercial bags, with mum and dad enterprisingly setting up an (isolated) production line in the kitchen.

One of our greatest concerns was how the initial panic-buying was going to pinch the supply chain. Demand leapt for 25kg bags of potatoes; we haven’t sold those volumes since we harvested them on the farm when I was a child.We experienced the ridiculously high price of cauliflowers, broccoli and cabbages, but this has been more to do with poor harvests as opposed to problems relating to Covid-19.

Charles and Jensen enjoying a rare quiet moment at The Gog (35362323)
Charles and Jensen enjoying a rare quiet moment at The Gog (35362323)

With the hospitality market almost halting overnight, the repercussions for many farmers and food producers has been massive. We soon heard stories of several of our cheese producing friends having to literally pour milk away as they witnessed the demand for their beautifully crafted products all but vanish.

Neal’s Yard Dairy shared the plight of these farmhouse cheese producers with Jamie Oliver who promptly called out to his mass following on social media. The result was incredible as he managed to tap into a completely new customer base as they escaped the mediocrity of mass-produced British cheese for many sensational flavours - thank you Jamie!

It’s been an incredibly busy time and the changes involved have been deeply unsettling and challenging for many, but the strength and support shown by our customers and local community has been astonishing. Thank you.

The Gog Farm Shop is at Heath Farm, Shelford Bottom, Cambridge CB22 3AD. See thegog.com and follow on social for more.

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